Tue August 12, 2014
Fire Damages Multiple Structures At Oxbow's Elk Creek Coal Mine
"We had two explosions at the Oxbow Mine that caught fire a loading shot tower," said Randy Barnes with the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office.
The fire, which is now out, also burnt a conveyer belt connected to the tower.
"Apparently what happened is some hot coal ignited by spontaneous combustion in the silo dropped down on the conveyer belt and caused a fire," said Oxbow Mining president Mike Ledlow.
Ledlow said over the past month there have been multiple fires in the silo but those were put out before they could cause major damage.
Officials said no one was hurt by the fire.
Bill Sterns, a Somerset resident who lives 50 feet away from the tower and conveyer belt that burnt, said he and his neighbors got out fire hoses to water down their properties in case the flames spread across the highway to their homes.
"I've got a mother-in-law that's 86 that lives with us," Sterns said. "We went ahead and got her up in the middle of the night so that we would be able to evacuate if we deemed it necessary."
He said it took the Paonia Fire Department about 25 minutes to respond to the fire.
Somerset doesn't have a fire department, but the community has fire boxes equipped with hoses so residents can fight fires before emergency responders arrive from other areas.
Sterns said fires are always a concern when you live next to a coal mine.
The Elk Creek Mine shutdown mining operations last year and laid off hundreds of workers.
Ledlow said the mine still employs 18 people.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated for clarity.