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Abstract

The origin of the subsurface fire burning since 1910 in the South Cañon Number 1 Coal Mine west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is unknown. Surface manifestations of the fire include gas vents (some encrusted with minerals), burnt vegetation, subsidence features, ash, sulfur, and red-oxidized shale.

The minerals tschermigite, mascagnite, and gypsum formed in association with coal-fire gas exhaled from a gas vent on the western slope of South Canyon.

Tschermigite and gypsum are reaction products of the gas with feldspar grains in the Williams Fork Formation. Gas collected from a vent and from soil above a burn zone in former underground workings on the eastern slope of South Canyon was found to contain numerous hydrocarbons, including n-alkanes, iso-alkanes, cyclo-alkanes, alkyl aromatics, alkenes, ketones, ethers, and a number of other volatile organic com-pounds, as well as sulfur compounds.

Drill casings currently present in voids in the D coal seam on the western slope trail are useful for collecting gas samples, monitoring the temperature of subsur-face burning, and measuring the concentration of gases, such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, in the field. The likely success of conventional fire-containment methodologies in South Canyon is questionable, although additional studies including drilling data may eventually suggest a useful control procedure.

The 2002 “Coal Seam Fire” that burned over 12,000 acres and destroyed numer-ous buildings in and around Glenwood Springs exemplifies the potential danger an underground coal fire poses for igniting a surface fire. Coal-fire gas and the solid by-products of combustion contribute to the destruction of floral and faunal habitats and may be responsible for a variety of human diseases; hence, the study of coal gas and its by-products may prove useful in understanding environmental pollution created by coal-mine fires.

Keywords: South Cañon Number 1 Coal Mine, coal-mine subsidence, coal fires, coal-fire gas, gas-vent minerals, coal-fire pollution.

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