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.

Coal seam fires burning in Alaska

French Gulch Fire
The 108-acre French Gulch Fire, a coal seam fire burning about 5 miles east of the Parks Highway near Healy, Alaska.

The Alaska Division of Forestry is monitoring two, and possibly three, coal seam fires that popped up near Healy as a result of the recent hot, dry, windy weather.

The larger of the three fires, the 108-acre French Gulch Fire, was reported just after 7 p.m. on Sunday when somebody spotted smoke up the Healy Creek Valley. It is burning about 5 ½ miles east of the Parks Highway behind the Usibelli Coal Mine.

As of Monday afternoon, the fire was creeping and smoldering in tundra with minimal activity in the hardwoods, reported Incident Commander Shelby Majors with the Alaska Division of Forestry. The fire is in an area that has burned several times from previous coal seam fires and no structures are threatened, he said.

“It’s burning within a fire scar within a fire scar within a fire scar,” is how Mr. Majors put it.

There were three state forestry firefighters on scene and a state-contracted helicopter was used Sunday to drop water on the fire. The state borrowed a helicopter from the National Park Service on Monday to drop more water on the western edge of the fire. The plan is to prevent the fire from spreading west toward the highway and let it burn itself out using natural barriers, Mr. Majors said.

“We’re going to pretty much let it do its own thing,” he said. “The primary activity is along the southeast corner and it’s working itself into a snow field and rocks so it will be running out of fuel in the next day or two.”

Another, much smaller coal seam fire was detected on Sunday about 12 miles north of the French Gulch Fire, Mr. Majors said. That fire was only about 5-feet-by-5 feet and no suppression action was being taken because it was in an old burn area with minimal spread potential, he said.

A third fire was reported Monday morning about 5 miles north of the French Gulch Fire. That fire, which was estimated at 25 acres as of Monday afternoon, is also suspected to be a coal seam fire but that has not been confirmed, according to Mr. Majors. It too is burning tundra in an old fire scar and the potential for spread is minimal so there are no suppression efforts being taken as of Monday afternoon.

Coal seam fires are a common occurrence in the area and occasionally come to life when the conditions are right.


From Alaska Division of Forestry

Coal and coal seam fires reported on Wildfire Today.


Burning coal falling from truck may have started multiple fires in North Dakota

If this story is true, it is completely new to me as an ignition source for a wildland fire. Why would burning coal be on a truck?

Below is an excerpt from an article at

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Grass fires along a roughly 60-mile stretch of Interstate 29 Wednesday could have been caused by burning pieces of coal falling from a truck’s conveyor and onto the road, according to Walsh County Sheriff Ron Jurgens.

The truck was traveling south from Walhalla, N.D., toward Grand Forks, he said.

“Every time the wind would gust, it would blow some … onto the roadway,” said Jurgens Thursday.

Jurgens said a vehicle dragging its chains “had nothing to do” with fires along I-29, as had been reported earlier.

Fires popped up all along the route the truck took, Jurgens said, from Walhalla, along North Dakota Highway 5, south down I-29, to Grand Forks.

Coal mine fire under control in Victoria

Helicopter drop on Hazlewood coal fire. CFA photo.

The fire at the Hazelwood open cut coal mine that we told you about on March 5 is now under control after firefighters battled it for 29 days. It is not out, but they hope to obtain that status by this weekend if the predicted rain occurs.

It is believed the fire started when two bush fires burned close to the mine and spotted into the coal. The suspected cause of at least one of the fires is arson.

Helicopters have been used to drop water on the fire, while ground forces use sprinklers and master streams from fire engines. They have been using Class A foam from the beginning, but when experiments with compressed air foam were successful, they began using those systems from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and a Tasmanian crew on the northern batters to smother the fire with thick foam and help reduce the amount of smoke affecting Morwell.

CFA personnel have also been using an airborne heat-detecting infrared line scanner to fly over the fire to produce a map showing firefighters where the heat still remains and where they should concentrate their efforts. Infrared mapping systems are frequently used on vegetation fires in Australia and the United States.

All of the photos are from the CFA.

Hazlewood coal fire infrared image. CFA image.

Helicopter drop on Hazlewood coal fire. CFA photo.

Coal mine fire in Australia being fought with helicopters

Coal mine fire, Morwell, Victoria. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.
Coal mine fire, Morwell, Victoria. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

A massive fire at a coal mine at Morwell, Victoria in Australia is being fought with massive quantities of water and helicopters that are normally used for fighting bushfires. The fire, which has burning for three weeks, was most likely the result of a bushfire started by an arsonist. The town of Morwell, 150 km east of Melbourne, has been inundated with smoke and officials think it could take months to put out the fire.

Water pumped onto coal mine fire
Massive amounts of water are being pumped onto the fire at the coal mine. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.
Helicopter fights coal mine fire
Helicopter fights coal mine fire. CFA photo by Keith Pakenham.

Wildfire Today has numerous other articles about coal fires.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Darren

Juvenile sentenced for starting Weber fire in Colorado

Weber Fire, 2012
Weber Fire, June, 2012.  The communication towers at the top-left were threatened by the fire. Photo by Erin Yeoman.

Following a two-day trial a juvenile charged with starting the Weber Fire six miles southwest of Mancos, Colorado in June, 2012 has been sentenced. Few details were provided by the U.S. Attorney’s news release, but reportedly the juvenile apologized for the acts of delinquency and to those who were damaged by the fire. The court is in the process of determining an amount of restitution. The fire burned 10,133 acres.

Ryan Handy reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette that recently officials discovered at least seven smoldering coal fires this spring that they believe were ignited by the Weber fire. Four are coal-refuse piles and three are natural coal seams that have apparently been burning for almost a year. As we have reported previously, coal seam fires can be a challenge to suppress, since much of the burning coal is underground.

Map of Weber Fire
Map showing the location of the Weber Fire in southwest Colorado. Inciweb.

Thanks go out to Ryan