Thursday, 5 February 2015

Underground fire at former coal mine near Gateshead, England.

The Tyne and Wear Fire service are investigating a possible underground fire at the site of the former Clara Vale mine workings. The fire is not thought to present any hazard to the public, but part of a local footpath, Keelman's Way, has been closed off due to concerns about potential ground collapse or tree falls caused by the fire. It is thought that the fire is occuring in spoil dust that collected at one of two settling ponds at the site (now filled in and burried) rather than in an actual coal seem.

 A firefighter investigating the scene of an underground fire at the site of the former Clare Vale mine workings in Gatesheasd. Chronicle Live.

Coal underground can burn at a low level for very long periods of time. Where oxygen is limited but available the fuel is not consumed rapidly as in a fire at the surface, and as long as the oxygen remains available it will continue to survive. A coal fire which started at Planitz in Germany in 1476 was not extinguished until 1860, while a fire at Emalahleni in Mpumalanga has been burning since 1953 and one in Columbia County, Pennsylvania since 1962. A fire at Burning Mountain, Australia is thought to have been burning for about 6000 years.

A burning tree at the site of the former Clare Vale mine workings in Gatesheasd. Chronicle Live.

Underground coal fires can have serious environmental impacts as they release large amounts of both carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide - the later is formed through incomplete combustion of the coal in an oxygen poor environment, and is extremely hazardous, as it binds with haemoglobin more easily than oxygen, leading to oxygen starvation and death in those who inhale it.

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