When I put together the addendum list of disasters, to append to the Popular Science list of ten worst natural disasters in the last century in the U.S., I found it difficult to make a natural cutoff of mine disasters. From growing up in Utah I recalled the 1924 Castle Gate mine fire, which was covered fleetingly in Utah history texts, but became relevant during the 1963 potash mine incident. Local newspapers opened their archives, people who had roles in the incidents gave new interviews, and history came alive in the newspapers for a brief period.
A few years later, when I worked public policy for Utah politicians, in discussions of mine safety and the expansion of coal mining, I discovered that the history of Utah accidents had once again slipped from general public recall, and from the text books.
Once again, an accident of unbelievable proportions occurred in a massive coal mine in Utah, in an out-of-the-way place; a handful of people are trapped, and the nation hopes for their safety and prays for their rescue.
To its credit, the Salt Lake Tribune opened its archives again, and provides some historical context; somebody will need this list of Utah mine accidents in a few months, so I preserve it below the fold.
Utah’s six worst mining disasters
WINTER QUARTERS NEAR SCOFIELD: (May 1, 1900) An explosion at the Winter Quarters coal mine near Scofield in Carbon County killed 200 men and boys. It is considered the worst mining accident in Utah history. The cause of the explosion was never determined, but it may have been caused by leaking methane gas or errant coal dust. As many as four people survived. The mine reopened in June or July of the same year, but is now closed.
CASTLEGATE: (March 8, 1924) An explosion at the Castlegate coal mine near Helper in Carbon County killed 171 miners and one rescue worker. The explosion is considered the state’s second worst mining accident. There were no survivors and the cause of the explosion was never determined. The mine reopened several months later but is now closed.
STANDARDVILLE: (Feb. 6, 1930) An explosion at the Standardville coal mine killed 20 miners and three rescuers. Investigators believe the cause was leaking carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide gas. At least nine people survived.
SUNNYSIDE: (May 9, 1945) An explosion at the Sunnyside coal mine in Carbon County killed 23 miners. Investigators believe the cause was leaking methane gas.
KANE CREEK: (Aug. 28, 1963) An explosion at the Kane Creek potash mine in Moab killed 18 people. It is considered one of the five worst metal and nonmetal mine disasters since 1940.
WILBERG: (Dec. 19, 1984) A fire at the Wilberg coal mine killed 26 men and one woman. Investigators believe a faulty air compressor overheated when it was allowed to run unattended. It took about a year to recover all the bodies. The mine never reopened.
Sources: The Salt Lake Tribune archives; Mine Safety & Health Administration; Western Mining & Railroad Museum.