A coal mine fire in New Castle, Colorado has been burning since 1899 and shows no sign of slowing down.
In the early 1880s, New Castle, Colorado (in Garfield County) was a thriving prospectors and miners town. Two major coal mines were situated in New Castle: the Consolidated Mine just west of downtown and the Vulcan Mine to the southeast. During the peak of mining activity in the 1890s, New Castle’s population ranged from 1,500 to 2,500 people.
The Consolidated Mine was the largest on the Wheeler vein and boasted of rich coal veins more than 50 feet thick. The mines produced high-grade soft coal but also yielded extremely high levels of methane gas.
On February 18, 1896, the Vulcan Mine in New Castle exploded with a force powerful enough to blow timber from the mouth of the mine to the Colorado River 400 feet away. Forty-nine mine workers were killed in the explosion.
Mine inspectors reported that “no definite cause could be found for the disaster.” The recovery efforts for locating the bodies took four weeks.
Then in 1899, an explosion at the Consolidated Mine caused an unquenchable fire leaving mine operators no choice but permanently close the site.
Mine fires burn for decades to hundreds of years and vent through natural cracks. In 2002, the underground Consolidated Mine fire burned to the surface and sparked a wildfire which became known as the Coal Seam Fire. The rapidly moving fire burned 12,229 acres and cost more than $7 million to fight.
The fires are still burning today.