Federal OSM inspectors say steaming ground not mine fire in Throop

Federal OSM inspectors say steaming ground not mine fire in Throop

Hours of digging at a hot spot off Underwood Road on Friday showed no evidence of a mine fire.

Workers from the federal Office of Surface Mining rooted through steaming dirt, stumps and mine refuse, but the heated vapor and material appeared to be related to composting, not a fire, said OSM mining engineer David Philbin. Despite his conclusion, OSM officials will continue to monitor the site, which had a previous mine fire.

Testing will be done at least once a month until spring to be certain there isn’t a mine fire below the compost, or that one doesn’t begin. Once ignited, a mine fire becomes extremely difficult to control, Mr. Philbin said.

Vapor rose off mounds of debris and tree stumps turned over by an excavator on Friday, then disappeared after a few minutes. The lack of sustained smoke or a sulfur smell from burning coal led Mr. Philbin to conclude the rising heat was related to composting.

”A fire is a big pressure situation. When you uncover it, it’ll blast up,” he said, as buckets of dirt from 12 feet down were pulled up. ”So far, so good.”

Throop fire marshal Jerry Barone also stopped by the site on Friday. Mr. Barone brought the situation to OSM’s attention after hunters discovered the hot spot weeks ago. He and other borough officials were concerned because a fire was extinguished at the same site nine years ago.

And Mid Valley school buildings are nearby, across Underwood Road.

”This whole area has a history,” Mr. Barone said. ”We don’t know what the underground workings are in terms of the school district. And not too far up is a gas line.”

Throop’s hot spot is not far from a two-year-old mine fire burning in Olyphant, Mr. Barone said.

OSM will begin digging a huge trench around the seven-acre Olyphant fire in late January or February to try to contain it. Plans call for digging a 2,300-foot-long trench to isolate the mine fire.

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