Discover Why Fires are Burning Beneath This Colorado Town
Colorado’s rich mining history dates back to 1858 when discoveries of metals and minerals were first made in the unestablished territory. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many mines popped up throughout the state and prospectors came from all over the world to seek fortune in the Rocky Mountains. Most of Colorado's mining towns were founded in the mountainous regions of the central and southwest parts of the state.
Like silver and gold, coal became a highly sought-after resource in the Centennial State. Coal was converted to coke, which was then used for smelting the silver taken from other mines in Colorado.
In the late 1800s, one of the locations where coal was heavily present was the small town of New Castle. By 1888, there were five mines in New Castle: the Consolidated, the Keystone, the Coryell, the B&M, and the Vulcan Mine which was the largest of them all.
The Vulcan Mine was also known for multiple deadly disasters that took place on-site.
On February 18, 1896, the Vulcan Mine exploded, tragically taking the lives of 49 men. Despite the explosion, Vulcan reopened several years later. However, on December 12, 1913, a second explosion, as well as a large fire, broke out at the mine, killing another 37 men. Historians believe these explosions were likely due to the ignition of highly flammable methane gas, found within coal seams, and released when the seam is mined.
Although 86 lives had already been lost at Vulcan, mining operations continued to be carried out - but not without tribulations, of course. In 1918, three more men died while extracting sulfur at the mine in New Castle. A memorial to these World War I-era miners can be found at Burning Mountain Park, on Main Street in the heart of town.
In addition to the statue, other reminders of New Castle's mining history still exist throughout town - though some of these are harder to see than others.
For instance, steam and smoke can sometimes be seen rising from the ground in town. This is because more than 25 coal fires are still burning underneath New Castle, as well as within the surrounding 10 miles of the Colorado River Valley. One of those fires is from the original explosion in 1896. Burning Mountain has been ablaze since at least 1899 when the Consolidated Mine caught fire.
More than 115 years later, fires are still smoldering under the surface. It's the heat from these underground fires that result in barren scars on the surrounding mountains. Even during the winter, snow melts quickly off the slopes due to the fires burning below.
Coal fires continue blazing underground in this region of Colorado, yet many driving on I-70 would have no idea about the fiery action happening beneath them.
There are other underground coal fires smoldering in different states around the country, including in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The Vulcan Mine sits on private property, however, it can be seen from Garfield County Road 335 or from Grand River Park on the south side of the Colorado River.