Officials are investigating smoldering coal mine as cause of Marshall Fire

The rapidly spreading blaze destroyed more than 1,000 homes northwest of Denver December 30

Marshall fire possible origin area

Investigators are looking at an old coal mine as the possible cause of the Marshall Fire northwest of Denver, Colorado. Decades ago miners were extracting coal from an area near the location where the Marshall Fire started December 30, 2021. The remaining coal has been burning for years even though dozens of tons of fill were hauled in with the intention of stopping the burning, or at least insulating the fire from the surface. But these underground fires have a habit of creeping their way back to the surface and too often ignite a vegetation fire.

The old mine near the intersection of Highway 93 and Marshall Drive near the town of Marshall is one of 38 active underground coal fires in Colorado. In 2002 a burning underground coal seam ignited vegetation near Glenwood Springs, Colorado which burned 29 homes and more than 12,000 acres.

Wildfire Today had an article in 2008 about an 8-year-old boy who suffered burns on his foot when he walked into an area of Golden Hills park in Colorado Springs, Colorado that was covered in coal dust. Left over from coal mining operations about 80 years earlier, the dust was on fire, smoldering, and it melted the boy’s plastic shoe and gave him second degree burns. If the boy had not “discovered” the fire, it would have spread into nearby vegetation. The cause of the fire was unknown.

Pushed by winds gusting at 60 to 100 mph, the Marshall Fire spread rapidly last month as it destroyed more than 1,000 homes. Most were in the city of Louisville and the town of Superior.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Officials are investigating smoldering coal mine as cause of Marshall Fire”

    1. Sounds like they made an all-out effort to deal with it

      “…burning for years even though dozens of tons of fill…”

      What’s that — three dump trucks?

  1. Who’d ‘a thunk?! A bit of online research on coal mine fires, spontaneous combustion and incomplete combustion reveals an elephant in the living room. The probability of an occurrence is low but not unheard of. As an example, Superior Colorado was known as a prominent coal mining area. What lurks beneath? Matter-of-fact, coal seam fires and surface vents capable of igniting vegetation! Lowering of a local water table can exacerbate the problems. I can’t imagine a burned-out home owner would have been concerned about the occurrence of an inconceivable event like the Marshall Fire let alone even having knowledge of these coal-seam fires. In the end the dots might not connect but the risk is still there. Coincidentally, Joseph Marshall was a coal baron. LR


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