At a recent meeting of the National Fire Protection Association, H. M. Wilson, engineer in charge, Bureau of Mines, Department of the Interior, United States, read a paper on the above subject as follows:
“Fires in mines are a far greater menace to life and property than is generally appreciated. Two of the most serious disasters in coal mines within the last two years—one at Cherry. 111., and the other at Pancoast Mine, near Scranton. Pa.— had their origin in tires originating from trivial causes. Two of the most destructive disasters in metal mines in the last year—Tonopah. New, and Copper Hill, Tenn.—resulted from similar causes. At Homestead mine. Deadwood, S. D., $1,00(1,000 has been spent in lighting a metal mine tire. Moreover, there are tires raging in coal and metal mines in various parts of the country, which, having gotten beyond control, have burned for many years, devouring hundreds of thousands of tons of coal and miles of mine galleries. Of these tires, one near Carbondale, Pa., has burned out such a vast area of anthracite coal in the past ten years as to result in subsidence of the surface and destruction of surface property. Near Summit Hill. Pa., a tire is estimated to have destroyed $25,000,000 worth of coal after burning 51 years. Near Jobs. O., a tract of coal valued at several million dollars, has been burning since 1884. In some of the deeper metal mines of the Anaconda Company a! Butte. Mont., tires have been burning in the old mine timbers since 1880. In the Comstock vein in Nevada, thousands ot feet of tunnels which had been opened and timbered at great expense, are being burned out. causing falling of the roof and dislocation of the metal-bearing vein, tints rendering future recovery of the nr.difficult, if not impossible. On the afternoon of November PI. 1000, the Cherry mine, near Chicago, Ill., was fired, with the result that 202 lives were lost, and the property seriously damaged, in addition to the damage assessed upon the owners for the benefit of the families of those who perished. Evidence indicates that the fire was caused by a pit car loaded with several bales of hay intended for the mule stable in the third vein. It is believed that this car was placed under or in contact with a blazing torch or open miner’s lamp placed to give light to the cages. Possibly the oil, which was kerosene, dropped from the torch to the hay. However, the hay was fired, and there being an air current having a velocity of 700 feet per minute, the overhead timbers, man-way and air shaft were quickly fired. ‘This effectually shut off ingress and egress to the mine and imprisoned within it 484 men who were at work in the mine at the time. The cost of this fire was about $1,000,000, of which $50,000 a day was spent in direct fire fighting for many weeks. On April 7, 1911, a fire was started in the Pancoast mine near Scranton. Pa., which resulted in the loss of 7! lives, leaving 45 widows and 137 dependent orphans, as well as causing the destruction of much valuable property. This fire is known to have started in an underground room, presumably from some oilsoaked waste which fired some boxes and other inflammable material carelessly left near. The fire was not thought serious until it had been burning two hours. This delay was, in large measure, responsible for the great loss of life. A lire started February 22, 1911, in the 1.111(1-foot level of Belmont mine, at Tonopah, Nevada, which resulted in the loss of 17 lives and partial destruction of the property. The London mine of the Tennessee Copper Company was fired on November 29, 1999, hy sparks from a shifting engine igniting the top house. Embers fell down the shaft and the smoke and flames imprisoned 54 men, who were later rescued. Much damage resulted to the property. It is evident from the above that most mine fires have their origin in trivial causes, which, were proper means at hand and proper fire rules in force, might he quickly extinguished. The nature of the combustible material found in metal mines offers varying but usually good opportunities for the spreading of a fire. While the progress of a fire might at first lie slow, in some cases it might spread quickly and involve a large area and result in tremendous damage if not promptly extinguished. A careful study of the origin, history and methods of combating nearly all of the mine fires which have occurred since the creation of the mine accidents division of the Geological survey in 11)07, and its present successor, tile Bureau of Mines, has been made by the mining engineers of the latter organization. It is believed from this study that the introduction of comparatively inexpensive fire-lighting appliances, the adoption of proper regulations, and the institution of a reasonable system of fire drills may minimize fires and coniine others to a brief period of time with little damage to life and property. Among the most fruitful causes of mine fires -tudied iu the above period are, in approximate order of importance, the ignition of timbers, wooden stoppings and brattice cloths: hay or oil-soaked materials by open torches: the ignition of coal by blown-out shorts or explosions of fire damp or coal dust, or the improper use of explosives; surface tires communicated to the mine through the shaft or tunnel; underground furnaces and boiler plants; ignition by friction on oily, wooden rollers or rope haulage-ways; fires occasioned by spontaneous combustion of coal, timber or greasy waste. The engineers of the Bureau of Mines have adopted as the most effective means of exploring and in the earlier stage of combating mine fires, the use of the oxygen helmet. This is an apparatus which entirely protects the head, and through which air is furnished artificially, thus enabling the wearer to explore the vicinity of a fire under conditions of smoke and gas which would render his approach otherwise impossible. By the use of such apparatus a number of fires have, within the last few years, been promptly extinguished which would doubtless otherwise have spread and perhaps extended beyond control. The Bureau of Mines encourages the treatment of wood and brattice cloths and other inflammable materials with fireproofing substances. Chemistry, through the quick analysis of gases sampled at frequent intervals in the neighborhood of the fire, has proven a most useful adjunct in lighting fires. By this means it is found possible to stop off the lire and hy pumping in carbonic acid or smothering it with water, to determine by the progress of the analysis the condition of combustion, tints ascertaining with assurance the time when the tire may have been extinguished or may call for further combating. To a body of men familiar with the subject as you are, it seems unnecessary to call attention to the necessity of providing at each mine ample storage supplies of water under proper head, and properly conveyed in protected pipes to possible danger points; to the desirability of employing larger amounts of non-inflammable material in place of wooden mine timbering or wooden doors; the proper regulation of the disposal of waste; cleanliness, wherebv grease or oil-soaked material shall not be permitted; proper inspection of steam pipes and boiler plants to insure their insulation; fireproof man-ways and air shafts; proper fire protection and the use of non-inflammable material, so far as possible, in all top works and other surface structures within 50 to 100 feet of the main opening. Aside from these well-known measures, there are others which the engineers of the Bureau of Mines would suggest—such as careful examination of the working face after firing each shot; keeping barrels of water or boxes of sand convenient to points at which explosives are being used; keeping open lights away from the working face for some time after firing the shot; disconnection of electric wires before shot firing; proper attention to all electric wires and their insulation at danger points; examination of the manner of liberation of explosive gases; use of safety lamps or lanterns instead of open lamps in the neighborhood of all inflammable materials when engaged on repairing wooden stoppings or examining for air leakage, etc. A proper system of fire alarm signals should lie installed in every mine, and should be tested at suitable intervals, and underground employes should he familiar with the signals through frequent drills. The water supply for mines is usually such as to render desirable the use of nozzles of as small diameter as one-half to three-quarters of an inc.h. As high pressure as is reasonably attainable, say not under 50 pounds per square inch, should he furnished, for the reason that the trajectorv of the jet of water must be very low, since the hose must he used in tunnels often under 5 feet, and rarely oyer fi or 7 feet in height. In consequence. the nozzle can he elevated only at a very low angle, and the jet can he thrown a comparatively short distance. By test under 20 pounds pressure only 23 feet; under 30 pounds pressure, 30 feet; 40 pounds.