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DOL Media Advisory - 05-350-ATL
U.S. Department of Labor
Contact: Dirk Fillpot
Phone: (202) 693-4676
Contact: Eryn Witcher
Phone: (202) 693-4676


Released Thursday, March 3, 2005

MSHA Highlights Teamwork, Technology in Successful Mine Recovery

PIKEVILLE, Ky. - Top officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) joined representatives of Alliance Resource Partners today in Pikeville, Ky., to recognize the success of the recently recovered Excel #3 coal mine following an underground fire that broke out last December. There were no injuries or fatalities as a result of the fire.

"Cooperation, technical expertise and hard work contributed to the safe recovery efforts without injuries at Excel #3 mine," said John Correll, deputy assistant secretary for mine safety and health, during a visit to the operation. "Working together toward a common objective, industry and government recovered the mine in just 33 days, resuming production on Feb. 21, and safely returning miners to their jobs."

The underground fire began in the coal mine's belt slope on Dec. 25, 2004, while the operation was idle for the Christmas holiday. Initial exploration revealed the fire area extended from the slope to the bottom of the return shaft. When direct firefighting methods proved unsuccessful, the mine was temporarily capped at the surface openings the following day.

Rapid response and an innovative recovery plan developed by rescue teams from MSHA, MC Mining LLC, which operates Excel #3, and the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing brought the situation quickly and safely under control. Because of the difficult location of the fire, a combination of modern technology and the older, established method of "airlocking" were required to fight the fire. Airlocking is a system of doors arranged to allow the passage of mine rescue team members through each one without permitting appreciable airflow.

MSHA employed its state-of-the-art robot to complete the first exploration of Excel #3. More than 20 boreholes drilled into the mine were injected with inert gas and foam to help extinguish the fire. Boreholes also were used to evaluate the mine atmosphere to insure the safety of rescue personnel. Innovative ventilation techniques were required, since the main fan shaft had to be capped.

About 90 rescue personnel - including a number of Excel employees - collectively worked more than 3,000 hours in extreme heat and in mine openings as low as 18 inches to contain the fire.