Fight To Quench Coal Fire Continues

lacka coal mine

SIMPSON — Officials from the Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday it may take time to put out a coal fire burning near Simpson.

Officials think it’s been burning since sometime in December. They still don’t know what sparked the fire that’s now spread across a culm bank, or how deep the underground fire goes.

If you’ve been through northern Lackawanna County over the past few months you may have seen the smoke. It originates from a 7-acre patch of land in Simpson near Carbondale that’s been burning since at least mid-December.

It’s now so big that the crews working on it look miniscule compared to the billows of smoke.

Now, officials from the Department of Environmental Protection said they are still a long way from putting out the coal refuse fire.

Newswatch 16 first spoke with Joe Shivitz last month. He lives a few miles away in Wayne County and said the smell of sulfur has kept he and his wife up at night. He said Thursday it’s only gotten worse its only gotten worse.

“It gets bad, some days it’s really bad, it’ll just be a haze over this whole valley other times it goes south,” Shivitz said.

DEP officials said they still don’t know what sparked the fire that’s now affecting thousands of people in Lackawanna County’s up-valley with the smoke and a sulfur-like smell.

Crews have been digging since December, more the 40 feet below ground, and are still finding burning material. At the same time they quench the top with water.

Officials with the DEP have been pumping 1. 6 million gallons of water and putting it on this fire each day. And they expect to do that for at least another month.

“Now we’re working on 7 acres of land, and it really is, as I keep saying, an exploratory mission. We don’t have any maps to guide us on this. We dig, we see how deep the fire is, we continue to dig, that’s how deep we see the fire is,” said DEP spokesperson Colleen Connolly.

Connolly said now crews are trying to keep the fire from spreading to nearby coal seams. Then the fire would become much more serious.

DEP officials added there is no danger to the public. Just smoke and a smell, that sometimes if the wind is to the north, overwhelms Joe Shivitz’s Browndale neighbors.

“That’s ridiculous, you know? But they’ve got to do it, the fire’s got to be put out. It’s just too bad that it’s gone on this long,” added Tony Laguzzi.

The DEP was given federal funds to pay for the project. But since its going on longer than expected, the price is going up to. When it’s all said and done, officials expect the project to cost $2 million.


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