Holden Diary

Tuesday, March 8, 1960

Page 1

The morning found roads passable despite the overnight snowfall that covered Southern West Virginia. The clearing and application of salt and cinders by State road crews allowed Paul Akers and me to arrive in Logan withough difficulty. Paul and I were Federal Coal-Mine assigned to the U.S. Bureau of Mines Field Office located in the basement of Logan Post Office. With written reports due on recently completed coal mine inspections, we anticipated spending the day at this mundane task. Shortly after beginning, James Whelen, Supervising Inspector arrived in his usual jovial mood. Greeting us with comments on the weather, he turned to the work schedule board. Noting that his other Inspectors, Bob Calvert, Tom Gay, and Bill Stinette were on duty in the field, he had said, "Boys it looks as if we have it all to ourselves today" when interrrupted by the ringing telephone. As usual, the call was recorded in his own unique style of shorthand. Paul and I resumed work, barly aware of Whelen placing, receiving, and recording telephone calls.
At nearby Holden, WV, underground employees had entered Island Creek Coal Company's No.22 Mine. Among which was a group of eighteen production personnel accompanied by William (Bill) Donaldson, Safety Engineer, and James Lundell., Industrial Engineer. With normal mining in progress, a crew of men was observed handling mine supplies on the track-haulageway at the Third Left Entries overcast. The observer saw a bright flash of light which apeared to be an electric arc. Later two electric locomotives approached the same location from opposite directions and both operators observed an illumination. One of the operators, Clyde White, realized that the source of light was a fire. He reversed direction, returned to his 19 co-workers and warned of the fire between them and the elevator shaft.
Shortly after 10:00 a.m., Whelen interrupted our work following the receipt of a telephone call. "That was Paul Evans, Mine Clerk at No. 22 Mine, reporting the discovery of a fire underground," informed Whelen. He instructed Paul and me to "investigate and report back as soon as possible with available information."
A gray slush lay along either side of the road. Snow flakes, directed by gusting winds, danced intricate swirls as they fell from leaden skies. Only the sounds of wind and ryhthmic slap-slap of windshield wipers broke the silence inside our vehicle. Speculation was useless with the meager information available. The only certainty in investigating mine accidents is the uncertainty as no two are ever exactly the same. Although prompt notifacation of a mine fire is required, it often is received after extinguishment or the failure to do so. An underground mine fire is most dreaded in the industrry while others view an explosion as worse. Explosions quickly do violence to lives and property whereas fire, liberating intense heat, dense smoke, and poisonous gases, continue to endanger until either controlled or extinguished.
Officials and personnel at No 22 Mine were naturally bewildered, unable to comprehend how such could have happened, and deeply concerned for the safety of the twenty coal miners trapped behind the fire. With all available information relayed back to Whelen, establishing a preliminary was begun. State and local law enforcement agencies were requested to provide traffic control. Barricades were erected for the control of people who inevitably congregate and avenues established to permit an unobstructed flow of needed personnel and supplies. When satisfied with the progress, Paul and I entered the mine by way of the 480-foot deep elevator shaft and were transported by rail to the fire scene. Upon discovering and reporting the fire, the Foreman described the scene. "The intense heat caused the steel track-rails to twist and contort like huge black snakes in the throes of death."
The fire originated on the haulage road at the overcast supplying ventilation to the Third Left Entries, a distance of some three miles inby the elevator shaft. Flame had devoured the wooden roof supports allowing the overlying strata to collapse and completely fill the entry with rock. The mine was relatively old, having been opened in 1927. Access to the Cedar Grove coalbed, averaging 66 inches in height was by the elevator shaft from the Pine Creek side and a 1,500 - foot slope on the Elk Creek side, some seven miles apart. Ventilation was induced through these accesses by a large fan installed on the surface pillars of coal left for support during the development stage. This type of mining, a normal practice, places stress on the strata above and beneath the coal bed. Here, such stresses had fractured the overlying strata causing the fall of roof material which blocked normal travel in each of the seven entries paralleling the haulage road in No 4 Main Entry. The conditions prevented gaining quick access ahead of the fire and mounting a direct fire fighting operation.
Representatives of the West Virginia Department of Mines, Island Creek Coal Compny, and U.S. Bureau of Mines were now on the scene and aware of the existing conditions. All agreed that the quickest access to the fire could be gained through the hollow-core concrete block stoppings separating No. 3 Main Entry and No. 4 which contained the fire.

Previous Page \ Next Page