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

Wildfire briefing, November 19, 2012

Firefighters discover dog fighting operation

Hawkins Co Fire in Tn, Photo by Hawkins Co EMA
Fire in Hawkins County, Tennessee. Photo by Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency

Firefighters working to put out a wildfire near Rogersville, Tennessee had to suspend their suppression operations after they discovered a facility threatened by the fire that housed dogs and roosters used for dog and cock fighting. Firefighters rescued about 40 of the animals. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Times News:

Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the Times-News Sunday the suspected operation is now the subject of a criminal investigation, and although no arrests had been made he hoped to be able to release more information about that on Monday.

Murrell added, “It put a damper on the firefighting efforts last (Saturday) night because everybody had to pull off until we found out what it was. Then it took most available law enforcement and fire (personnel) to try to get all the dogs out.”

As of Sunday night the fire, which started on Thursday, had burned about 1,800 acres.

Petition to hire the DC-10 air tankers

The managers of the Facebook page for the DC-10 air tankers have organized a petition drive designed to convince the US Forest Service to award a long-term contract for the DC-10s. More information is at our Fire Aviation web site.

Coal seam fire burns 1,000 acres

A wildfire that started from a mostly underground fire in a coal seam has burned 1,000 acres of land in Boone County, West Virginia. Firefighters are suppressing the fire using leaf blowers, rakes, and dozers. Trees that were down as a result of a summer wind storm and then Hurricane Sandy have added fuel to the fire and complicated access to the area. We have reported on numerous other coal seam fires over the years.

Pole Creek Fire affected the economy of Sisters, Oregon

Some wildfires may enhance the economy of a rural area by spending money at local businesses. But too often tourists stay away in droves or in the case of the Pole Creek Fire near Sisters, Oregon, population 2,000, the dense smoke in the community forced some residents to temporarily leave the area. An article in a Firewise publication reported that even though 800 firefighters were housed at an incident base a few miles down the road, in September restaurants had their revenue decrease by 40 to 50 percent. Stores saw less business and motels experienced reservation cancellations up to five weeks out.

In September we reported on a study about the economic effects of large wildfires which showed that on average, the US Forest Service spent six percent of wildfire suppression funding in the county where the fires occurred. Amounts of local spending varied from zero to 25 percent.

The Pole Cree Fire started from lightning on September 9 and burned 26,795 acres before it was contained October 20.

Fire management decisions affect local communities

When land management agencies make decisions about using less than aggressive initial attack strategies, attempt to manage fires “on the cheap”,  or allow a fire to burn naturally for weeks or months, they may not accurately realize the long term economic and health effects those decisions can have on the local population. These may or may not have been issues in the management of the Pole Creek Fire, but they are too often mentioned as factors that have crept into fire management over the last decade.

World Bank says temperatures may rise 7.2 degrees

The World Bank reported that the planet may see temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius, or about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, resulting in more wildfires, extreme heat waves, a decline in food supplies and a ‘life-threatening’ rise in sea level.


Thanks go out to Dick