No “malice or negligence” in Smuggler explosions, fire department concludes
Incident narrative filed Wednesday corroborates state report of borehole blockage
An Aspen Fire Department investigation into the source of Saturday’s loud explosions at Smuggler Mine supports an earlier report from a state official that a borehole blockage caused the loud blasts, according to an incident narrative filed Wednesday by Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Parker Lathrop.
Lathrop’s account of the investigation conducted Monday largely corroborates the findings of Bill York-Feirn, mine safety program director for the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
Both accounts indicate mine employees detonated several old blasting caps in a hole purportedly more than a quarter-mile deep. A blockage approximately 20-30 feet below the surface may have caused the explosives to get caught in the shaft and detonate much closer to ground level.
Lathrop’s narrative also indicates that additional undetonated material may have been caught near the blockage from previous operations at the mine, causing a second explosion.
The hole has been used for nearly four decades as an explosive disposal site, according to conversations between Lathrop and mine manager Jay Parker detailed in the incident narrative.
“I have no indications or reason to believe that there was any malice or negligence on the part of (mine manager Jay) Parker or (mine employee Fred) Wilson on the morning of November 28, 2020,” Lathrop wrote. “Having followed a well-established, effective, and previously safe method of explosive material disposal, I believe the incident to be unintentional in nature.”
But the accidental nature of the incident may indicate room for improvement, Lathrop told The Times in a phone call Wednesday.
“I want to be sure we take a lesson for this,” Lathrop said. “Let’s take it and do better moving forward.”
According to the incident narrative, the “incident (is) closed pending further findings.” An official report will be filed Thursday, Lathrop said.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety plans no further action at this time, as previously reported, and it’s unlikely that any federal agencies will conduct an investigation.
Smuggler Mine falls outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration because it is a tourist mine, according to Chauntra Rideaux, a regional spokesperson for the department.
Likewise, the explosions are not subject to oversight by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives because the detonation was part of regular, legal mine operations, according to Matthew Deasaro, acting public information officer for the Denver Field Division of the federal agency. The bureau’s jurisdiction is over the illegal use and storage of explosives, not events that result from legal detonation.
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Aspen resident Don Bird, retired director of the Pitkin County Jail, is under the medical care of a Denver-area hospital after a bicycle crash Wednesday left him with facial, pelvic, shoulder and spinal injuries, and brain damage, family and friends said Friday.