Willow Creek Mine Explosion and Fire July 31, 2000
Beginning at 11:48 p.m. on July 31, 2000, a series of four explosions occurred in the Willow Creek Mine, an underground coal mine located in Carbon County, Utah. Most likely, a roof fall in the worked-out area of the D-3 longwall panel gob ignited methane and other gaseous hydrocarbons. This resulted in the first explosion and fire. Believing that a roof fall had occurred, personnel remained on the D-3 longwall section to extinguish a fire near the base of the shields on the headgate side of the longwall face. Eventually, liquid hydrocarbons became involved in the fire. Conditions worsened in the face area just prior to the second explosion. Two closely spaced explosions occurred at approximately 11:55 p.m. A fourth explosion occurred at 12:17 a.m. on August 1, 2000. Two fatalities occurred as a result of the second and third explosions. The fire provided the ignition source for these subsequent explosions. A mine rescue and recovery operation was conducted and all remaining survivors and the deceased were recovered by 4:00a.m. Appendix A is a list of the injured miners. Appendix E contains the accident data sheets.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) determined that the bleeder ventilation system did not adequately control the air passing through the worked-out area of the D-3 Panel. The system did not dilute and render harmless concentrations of methane and other gaseous hydrocarbons in the worked-out area where potential ignition sources existed.
The mine surface openings were sealed at approximately 10:30 a.m. on August 1, 2000. At present, there is no plan to reenter or reopen the mine. Accordingly, this report is based entirely on witness interviews and records obtained during the investigation. Should an underground investigation of the accident scene become possible in the future, an amended report may be issued.
Willow Creek Mine - (MSHA ID 42-02113)About 10 minutes before midnight, a fall of roof in the mined out area behind the shield roof supports on the mine's longwall face occurred. When this occurred, naturally occurring hydrocarbons on the mine floor were ignited. The crew was in the process of extinguishing the flames when an explosion occurred. The mine was evacuated: however, not everyone was immediately accounted for. Mine rescue personnel were alerted and quickly began to arrive. Two teams were in place and ready to go underground when three miners, the last to come outside, arrived on the surface at about 1:45 a.m. The rescue team obtained information from these men and proceeded underground at about 2:00 a.m. The team rescued two injured miners and recovered the bodies of two miners killed in the blast. All were found in or near the headgate area of the longwall working section. The team reported that they observed smoke but no fire and determined that ventilation across the longwall face was diminished as a result of the blast. They exited the mine, all miners now accounted for, arriving on the surface at about 4:00 a.m. The mine's atmospheric monitoring system, which remained operational, indicated that carbon monoxide concentrations peaked after the blast, then declined, then began to climb again after the rescue was complete. Mine personnel decided to seal the mine in order to contain the fire. This was accomplished in a few hours. The mine remains sealed. Eight injured miners were hospitalized; however, two miners were treated and released. Our latest information from mine personnel is that one miner remains in critical condition and the other miners are in stable condition. MSHA's accident investigation team, headed up by Ray McKinney, District Manager from Norton, Virginia, is on site to investigate this accident. MSHA's Technical Support mine gas analysis personnel are on site with gas analysis equipment. Samples from the sealed mine are being collected and analyzed to evaluate conditions underground.