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       Throughout most of the coal producing states in America and across the world, coal is being destroyed at an astronomical rate and nothing can be done at present to stop it. Due to underground fires or woodland brush fires and in some cases, trash dumps being ignited, coal seams have accidentally been set afire and are burning out of control. These fires rage underground at 1,000 degrees and may continue to burn as long as they have fuel to supply them. Coal isnt like other mineral ores, silver gold and other minerals are found in veins that may run for a few feet and stop.

Coal on the other hand is found in seams. It begins on the outside of a mountain and continues for miles at a time and is measured in mineable acres. The fires could have been started by forest fires or underground ignition sources and will burn the entire length of the seam itself. Noxious gases and sulfur smoke pour out from underground fires, polluting the air and killing off surrounding vegetation . At the same time, the heat that permeates from underground heats up the soil on the surface and causes the soil to become sterile. Different ways of fighting these fires have been tried but with very little success.

    Every spring and fall as the trees shed their leaves or the ground cover becomes dry, dead vegetation that happens to be lying around near the outcrop of these seams heat up and ignite catching the brush afire. Every year between the areas of Coal Mountain in Wyoming County and Elk Creek in Mingo County the mountains begin to burn as dry brush is ignited by a blazing seam of coal near the mountains top. Other seams in the state have been burning out of control since the early 1900s. A special note must be made for those who have never seen a coal seam on fire. These areas of the mountain are in close relation to lava tubes on a volcano. The underlying coal seam is burning at near 1,000 degrees or it has been burnt away leaving an empty cavern with only a thin crust between a thousand degrees and you.

        The weight of a full grown man may cause these crusty overburdens to collapse and a person could be burned alive. Carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases are venting themselves to the surface and can over come a person in a matter of seconds.

        A vent hole leading down to the seam of coal that is burning. Coal seam fires are feed by natural ventilation.
Depending on which way the wind happens to be blowing, air enters through openings on one side of the mountain and pushes the fire towards the other. One minute smoke may be coming out on one side and the next it could be coming out on the other side. If you notice the black line running up the hillside here, this is where coal smoke has made its way up through a surface crack and is being vented. The hazard of walking around the area of these coal seam fires are as great or greater than going inside and abandoned mine itself.

        A rough number of 583 coal seam fires are currently burning throughout the state. As the fire burns the outcrop of the seam, it leaves nothing nothing but ash underneath the dirt. A rough crust forms over top of the seam itself and cannot stand a heavy amount of weight. If a person happens to walk over the thin crust thinking there is plenty of coverage between them and the fire, the ground may fall through with them and they can end up on top of a 1,000 degree coal fire and may not be able to escape with their life. I cannot express enough the real dangers that abandoned coal mines represent. It is our nature to explore.

        The best way I can describe this photo is by calling it a small fumerole that vents the smoke and deadly gases out from the burning coal seam. Underground coal fires are supplied oxygen by natural ventilation processes. When this photo was taken, the air was flowing back through this fumerole and smoke came out on the other side of the mountain. Being curious also means being cautious as well. If the wind changes direction and the curious explorer is not aware of it, the heat,fumes and smoke from the fire can blow back in your face.

               


        Take a look at the rock above the coal. The massive heat that is generated by the fire has severely fractured the rock strata. Notice how huge chunks of the rock wall was seperating and falling into the road below. Huge cracks, also called surface cracks or mountain breaks, were evident all over the mountainside.

                 

      The smoke and toxic gases that come up from the burning seam below, along with the tremendous heat that is generated does more damage to the mountain than just burning the coal seam and fracturing the rock. The fumes, smoke and carbon monoxide gases eventually smother out the vegetation and trees. The heat will eventually sterilize the top soil. These photos are typical of all the areas that I have seen. One can only wonder and guess at how long it will take nature to reclaim the sterile land. These fires are not usually left alone to simply burn. Numerous attempts and different methods have been used to try and extinguish these fires, but unfortunately, too many still remain active and they may not die out until the seam itself is exhausted.

      These seam fires also cause forest fires in the spring and fall seasons. Dry leaves that fall and gather near the burning outcrop catches fire and burns the surrounding areas. It is hard to determine exactly how certain fires were started, but even in other coal producing states, coal seams have been burning since the early 1900s. They have endangered towns, parks and even residential areas.

           

      I imagine that most of these fires could have been prevented. If man would take more precautions when we clear off our land for mining and watch our burning habits, we possibly could have stopped the needless burning of millions of tons of our natural resources. It is hard for me not to think of the destruction that we have done to a stable world. Sadly enough, there are those who do things to our world on purpose, despite what affect it may have. Vandals have set fire to outcrop coal seams just to watch them burn. These fires add to the global problem of air pollution. Isnt it bad enough that we pollute our atmosphere while attempting to warm ourselves and provide electricity but because of our carelessness, we do even more damage.