The Department of Environmental Protection anticipates accepting bids next week for a contractor to drill boreholes at the site of the fire burning in an abandoned mine atop Big Mountain immediately south of Trevorton.
The boreholes are multipurpose, according to Megan Lehman, environmental community relations specialist, Williamsport. She said they’ll be used for temperature monitoring, evaluating subsurface conditions, monitoring the escape of smoke and water vapor and pinpointing the fire’s location.
“At this point, we do not know the precise location of the burning material,” Lehman said.
DEP is creating a drilling plan and expects the winning bidder to begin drilling shortly after the contract is awarded, Lehman said.
There’s optimism within DEP that the continued mass dumping of water down the mine slope opening, just steps behind the Coal Miner’s Cross Memorial visible from the town below, is working to extinguish the underground fire. More than 670,000 gallons were dropped into the mine by a third-party contractor from Saturday through Wednesday, the latest figure available. As such, plans for more technical and costly alternatives are on hold.
The water is escaping from a known discharge into a stream along Gap Road that is a tributary of Zerbe Run. DEP is collecting “background water quality information” should firefighting foam or other agents be used to smother the fire, Lehman said.
The fire was first reported on April 24. Both the cause of the fire and the associated illegal dumping is under investigation. The parcel of land is owned by Northumberland County, leased by the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, and isn’t currently permitted for mining.
DEP and first responders theorized potentially thousands of used tires and other waste discarded illegally into the mine opening caught fire and also presumed coal caught fire hundreds of feet below the surface.
A representative with DEP’s Northcentral Emergency Response Team visited the site Thursday and conducted air monitoring using handheld monitors at five different locations. Measurements were collected hourly over the course of five hours.
Lehman said DEP sought to measure for the presence of carbon monoxide, combustible gas, hydrogen sulfide, oxygen, methane and volatile organic compounds.
“Based on preliminary results, DEP detected intermittent, trace amounts of CO at a single location: the mine opening. The concentration was well below the IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) standard. There was no substantial response from the monitoring equipment at any other site, and there was no oxygen depression at any site during any of the sampling events,” Lehman said.
“A small intermittent amount of smoke or vapor was issued from the mine periodically, usually when water was introduced. DEP intends to return to the site at least twice in the next several days to conduct similar air monitoring of the site. The goal of the air monitoring is to ensure the safety of those working at the scene,” Lehman said.
A mining expert with DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation previously cited mining maps and geological information when explaining that the coal seam accessed by the mine slope runs east to west between the Trevorton area and East Cameron Township — saying the fire wouldn’t likely spread below Trevorton and that the village is geographically protected.
An independent research team, on Tuesday, lowered camera equipment with LED lights, a temperature probe and a depth gauge into the mine slope opening. The equipment reached depths of 250 feet. It encountered significant amounts of household trash and few tires. DEP analyzed the resulting data including still images and video footage. Smoke and water vapor clouded the images but no flames or smoldering debris was observed, according to Lehman.