In July 2012, the Seeley Fire swept across a Utah mountain, burning timbers that extended out of two portals of an abandoned mine and igniting the coal seam inside.

In August 2013, the state of Utah contracted with Yerba Buena to close the two burning portals and a small vent opening in a collapsed escapeway portal about 1,400 feet east of the fire, where oxygen coming in continued to stoke the fire.

It was difficult even to get our team and equipment onto the remote site. We had to bring in a road grader to extend a road three miles so trucks could drive up to a radio tower area at 9,800 feet for staging.

We then used chainsaws to clear trees and blaze a trail from the primary staging area down to a secondary staging area on a ridge a mile away. There, workers placed by hand and leveled two 4,000- gallon collapsible water tanks. From the tanks, it was another half mile to the burning portals below.

Workers manually laid out over a mile of 1.5-inch fire hose from the upper to the lower staging area and down to the portals. Operators “walked” a spider excavator down the 50 to 60 percent slope to the portals. The 20-foot-wide portal mouths were blocked by piles of rubble 12 and 15 feet high so we couldn’t see or fight the fire. The excavator cleared these piles so workers could spray 4,000 gallons of fire suppressant slurry onto the dirt and coal dust outside the openings as well as into the portals. The excavator then backfilled the portals.

When the excavator needed repairs, a helicopter flew in a gas-powered welder. The chopper also ferried the two water tanks and 1,000 to 1,500 feet of fire hose back up the hill during demobilization.

The fire continues to smolder inside the mountain. But, thanks to the Yerba Buena team’s work, if the flames should ever move toward the surface, they will be stopped by the fire suppressant before they ignite another forest fire.

  • Project Name: Wattis Coal Seam Fire Remediation
  • Category: Other Projects
  • Client/Owner: Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil, Gas and Mining
  • Location: Carbon County, UT
  • Dollar Amount: $345,192
Project Features:

  • Extremely rough terrain
  • Heavy rains and some snow
  • Helicopter use
  • Road grading
  • Tree clearing and trail blazing
  • Spider excavator use
  • Fire suppressant slurry spraying