An investigation is pending regarding the early Tuesday morning fire at Oxbow Mining in Somerset. The Paonia Fire Department and the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office responded to the fire.
According to Randy Barnes, undersheriff, the fire was in the Oxbow load out tower where trains pull up to be filled with coal.
“According to the Oxbow Mine employees the fire has been smoldering in the storage silo for about a month and has worked its way into the coal load out chute,” Barnes reported. “This caused two minor explosions in the train loading tower. Paonia Fire Department was able to put out the fires from the ground.”
According to Mike Byers, fire chief, the Paonia Fire Department was dispatched at 12:10 a.m. Tuesday. The department sent four trucks, including a ladder truck, and 13 firefighters to put out the fire. The firefighters returned to the station at 4:30 a.m.
Byers described the fire damage as “pretty extreme.” He said there were fires on the conveyor belt and in the load out tower.
Mike Ludlow, Oxbow Mining executive vice president, disagreed with the Gunnison County Sheriff’s report, which stated the fire had been smoldering in the silo for a month. “I don’t agree with that. We have had some spontaneous combustion events from heating in the silo, but we extinguished that by dousing it with water,” Ludlow said. “Apparently it reignited and some hot coals, some hot embers fell down through the chute last night onto the conveyor belt and caught the conveyor belt on fire.”
Ludlow said, “The load out facility itself is a conveyor belt that feeds the load out from the silo, and that conveyor belt is a complete loss. The load out building itself did not sustain any damage.”
He explained, “The damage to the conveyor structure and the conveyor is about a 300-foot section of elevated structure, and that is a loss.”
Ludlow has no cost estimates on the damage, nor does he know how long it will take to repair the damage. “We’re assessing the damage right now and formulating a plan to remove the damaged conveyor,” Ludlow said.
Oxbow last sent coal out by train in July. Currently, there are no shipments scheduled. “We have a small amount of coal remaining in inventory,” Ludlow said.
Undersheriff Barnes stated Oxbow employees continue to monitor the fire. However, according to Ludlow, “We’re monitoring the heat in the silo and the load out. There is no indication that there is a fire at the present time, but we are monitoring all locations for reoccurrence of a fire.”
The Mine Safety and Health Association was notified of the incident and an inspector was already at Oxbow Tuesday morning.
In his latest update, Undersheriff Barnes said, “As of 12:30 p.m. [Tuesday], Mine Safety and Health Association (MSHA) are on scene at the Oxbow Mine, along with the president of the Oxbow mine. The fire is out in the load out tower. Mine officials and MSHA are concerned of the integrity of the load out tower. They are in the process of bringing in cranes to assess the load out towers structure. Until the cranes arrive in the next couple of hours MSHA and Oxbow employees and a Gunnison County sheriff’s officer are on the scene dealing with traffic control and will be assisting with the assessment of the load out tower.”