Mystery Monday

Jul 14, 2014 8:35 PM

Mystery Monday: Mystery Of Underground Coal Fires

Strong Odors. Hot Flames. Dark Smoke.

Scientists say there are at least 30 underground coal fires in Eastern Kentucky, mostly in old abandoned mines. One of these burns under Highway 80 in Perry County. It's known as the Ruth Mullins fire and scientists are concerned that most people don't know how dangerous these fires can be.

"It's really no different from standing near say a small coal fire stove and breathing in the smoke all the time in terms of Hazard," says Dr. O'Keefe.

The combination of gases and fumes released from the Ruth Mullins fire aren't the only problem.

In Perry County right underneath Kentucky 80 scientists say a coal seam actually runs right underneath the road. They say if the Ruth Mullins fire were to burn in this direction underneath Kentucky 80 it could possibly collapse the road and make for a very tragic situation.

"If you get that fire going through there it would further undermine the road, if you get heavy traffic, a heavy vehicle crossing there you have the potential for a collapse, which could be very serious certainly lead to injuries and maybe even loss of life," says Dr. Hower.

That's why the Highway Department is carefully monitoring the situation, but these fires are difficult to track and even more difficult to extinguish.

"The only way to truly put out a coal fire is to absolutely cut off all sources of oxygen," says Dr. O'Keefe.

But the ultimate goal, according to Dr. O'Keefe, is to find more ways to track and control these fires.

"That's in the end, our end goal. Can we predict what's happening based on our observations so that we can keep people in the region safe?"


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