September 14, 2009

The 1944 Emerald Mine Fire At Chartiers

It was a spark from a grounded trolley wire that started the Emerald Mine fire soon after seven pm on the evening of June 7, 1944. It fell into a load of hay, fodder for the horses that pulled the pitwagons. There was an attempt to push the burning car into a worked out section but the fire got out of hand and started burning the haulageway. The volunteer fire departments of East Bethlehem and Jefferson arrived as men women and children swarmed down the hill from the patch to see about husbands and fathers. East Beth Fire Chief Albie Tinelli sent four volunteers down the 400 foot shaft with hose but they had to return, the bottom was a raging inferno. Of the 157 men on the night shift all but 6 came out within a few hours, most of them by way of the Lippencott air shaft three miles away. Rescue crews from Tower Hill and Clyde went repeatedly into the mine but the flames drove them back. At the main shaft the women of Chartiers organized a canteen and were passing out coffee to the men as they worked.Mine rescue team of the 1940's
All the local mine officials were on hand, Thomas Lamb, superintendent of the Chartiers pit of Emerald, William G. Stevenson, general manager of the Hillman Coke Company, T.P. Latta, superintendent of Crucibile Steel's Monongahela River Mine, George O'Brian, superintendent of the mines at Allison and Tower Hill, Richard Maize, state secretary of mines, district inspectors from Waynesburg, Uniontown and Monongahela City, the Federal Inspector, U.S.Bureau of Mines engineers , William ( Billy ) Hynes, president of District 4 of the United Mine Workers, UMWA International board member Jock Yablonski and other union officials.

Emerald Mine Tipple at Chartiers 1930, looking north, MRy photo

Emerald is a gassy mine and as the flames spread the work became increasingly dangerous. After eighteen hours the state inspectors ordered the sealing of the mine to avoid further loss. If the fire remained unchecked it could start to burn into adjoining mines. Earlier when the Pike Run mine fire got out of control it burned for ten years. The old Coal Hill Mine on the southside of Pittsburgh caught fire in 1765, before they learned about sealing mines, and was still burning in 1820, looking "like the mouth of a volcano".
There was no hope to get the six men and thirty two horses who remained in the pit. Of the missing miners, three were unmarried, one was the father of five children. Another victim, Steve Barnish, a fifty-five year old machine operator, left nine children. Barnish had a home in Chartiers Village on the hill above the mine. Sixteen days after the mine fire a tornado came through, destroying many of the neat white colonial cottages of the patch. Among the dead were Steve Barnish's wife and one of his daughters.
It took twelve hours to seal the slopes and headings. They put in concrete blocks, covered them with a brattice and then plastered over the top. The mine remained sealed all summer and fall. When the mine was sealed, the adjacent Clyde Mines workings were shut down. For a while over 1900 men were idled in the Ten Mile Creek Valley, 640 from Emerald and the rest from the Clydes. By late December it seemed that the fire was out. It was risky to open a sealed mine because even if the fire is out the heat will have cooked a high concentration of firedamp out of the strata and nearly all oxygen would have been consumed. Of four Pa. explosions caused by mine fires, three were from sealed fires opened too soon.
When the inspectors got inside the mine, they found bodies identifiable only by lamp and check tag numbers. They were 2000 feet from the shaft and would have had time to escape through side routes but for some reason did not.
The clean up took several months and after almost a year after the fire, the Emerald mine was back in operation.

Blasting cap token, Emerald Coal and Coke Co., my collection

Tin sign courtesy unknown donor

Emerald's river tipple above the mouth of Ten Mile, on the present river bike trail. MRy photo

Emerald was originally called the Edward Mine and first opened in 1921. It was accessed by three mine shafts, two slope entries, and a bore hole 36 inches in diameter. The Chartiers Slope, Chartiers Fan Shaft, Chartiers Hoisting Shaft, The River Slope, and air vent, and the Lippincott Shaft. Coal was moved to the river tipple and also loaded onto railroad cars at Chartiers. When the 1944 tornado destroyed much of the original patch housing on Chartiers Hill Emerald Coal and Coke built the Burson patch. The Braden patch was another section of company-built housing for employees of the Emerald Mine, and is probably the last coal patch to be constructed in Pennsylvania. It was at that time a Hillman owned mine.
Renamed Gateway in 1963 by a subsidiary of the companies that used its output, this Morgan Township mine closed in 1989.

This Emerald Mine is not to be confused with the currently active Emerald Mine originally operated by RAG-Emerald and opened in 1977 in Franklin Township, Waynesburg Pa. It was first owned by Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. and has had several owners since.

Much of this is taken from the book Cloud By Day by Muriel Earley Sheppard.

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