Soudan Mine Fire Update

SoudanMine27thLevel near Ely MN before Fire of 2011

Soudan Mine near Ely MN

On March 17th a fire broke out in the main shaft of the Soudan Mine about two thousand feet down. There had been repair work being done in the shaft earlier that day and sparks from the welding work being done above fell down the shaft, and some of those hot sparks landed in the heavy timbers that line the back wall of the shaft. Those sparks eventually were fanned by the natural updraft of the air going up the shaft, and when ever you combine heat, fuel, and oxygen in one place, you have what is termed the fire triangle and you’re bound to have trouble with that mix of ingredients.

By the time the fire was reported at half past nine that night, smoke was billowing up out of the shaft. In order to discover just what was burning, some very brave people dawned their fire gear and headed down in the cage to determine the nature of the fire. That was how they found out that the fire was confined to the shaft.

Fighting an underground fire presents special challenges. The last underground mine fire in Minnesota was at the Chandler Mine in Ely over a hundred years ago. Sometimes the best way to fight a fire burning underground is to cut off the air to the fire by hanging heavy curtains up at strategic places in the mine, but that wouldn’t work at the Soudan. The only option was pumping thousands of gallons of foam fire retardant down the shaft. It took several days, but finally the fire is out. When they went down to look, the foam a eight feet deep in the shaft station, and about the same in the physics lab. It is a mess on the 27th level of the Soudan mine, and it will take weeks to clean up and repair the damages caused by the fire.

The post fire clean up is underway, and needless to say there is a lot of work to be done at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, and one of the consequences of the fire is that Mine Manager Jim Essig announced that the underground mine tours have been canceled this year. People can still come to visit the surface attractions at the Soudan Mine, but there will be no underground tours at the Soudan Mine this summer. The good news is that the DNR is making an investment at the Soudan Underground Mine that will insure that visitors will be able to visit Minnesota’s only underground mine far into the future, but this summer people visiting the mine will be confined to a surface tour.

By Mike Hillman

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>