Coal fire vent flare-up little concern, officials say

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Smoke drifts from a vent in the Grand Hogback south of Interstate 70 and the Colorado River near New Castle. Colorado River Fire Rescue District officials say the fire is still deep underground, and not a wildfire threat.
Valerie and Buzz Cooper | Courtesy

A more-than-century-old underground coal fire burning deep inside the Grand Hogback south of New Castle that has been putting out a lot of smoke in recent days is not a major wildfire risk, according to area fire officials.

After posting a photo on Facebook on Friday of an enlarged vent that had collapsed in the coal seam, Colorado River Fire Rescue officials clarified over the weekend that it wasn’t meant to alarm people.

“The hole is at least 30 feet deep,” and therefore no flames or embers are near the surface where it could start a wildfire, the Rifle-Silt-New Castle area fire district said in a followup post Saturday.

Smoke is often visible from the vent during all times of the year, and there’s a bare patch on the surface in the winter when the heat from the deep underground fire melts the snow.

But the fresh collapse caused an increase in venting and smoke in recent days, prompting Garfield County dispatch to be inundated with 911 calls.

“It is putting out some smoke, but it has been monitored and there is no cause for alarm,” the fire district said in its earlier post.

The coal seam inside the Grand Hogback has been burning for some 120 years, a reminder of the coal mining history of New Castle and the often-tragic mine accidents that have occurred over the years, the fire district also pointed out.

In 2002, an underground fire was believed to be the cause of the devastating Coal Seam Fire in South Canyon, as it was officially named. In that instance, the fire was burning much closer to the surface in an area that has since undergone a fair amount of reclamation and efforts to control the burning. Attempts by state mine reclamation officials to put out the fire have not been successful.

More than two dozen homes in the West Glenwood area were lost to the Coal Seam Fire.