Investigating the 1877 Lykens Mine Fire – The Pennsylvania Mine Inspector’s Report

By March 1878, repairs were rapidly being made to the severely damaged mining operation at Bear Gap in Wiconisco Township following the devastating 1877 mine fire.

William Hemingray, Mine Inspector of the Third District of the Anthracite Region, detailed his investigation into the cause of the mine fire, efforts to extinguish the blaze, and the repair work being done in order to restart operations at the Short Mountain Colliery.

Below is his report on the fire:

Fire at Short Mountain Colliery

A fire broke out in this colliery on the 1st day of January, 1877. Since which time no coal has been sent to market. The origin of the fire has never been definitely ascertained.

From information obtained from the engineer employed in running the lower pump, it appears he was called away, up to what was known as No. 6 pump, one lift above, and he thinks the fire was started from a spark of his lamp dropping among some dry wood or other inflammable matter, and was positive the fire was started at bottom of slope, on the east side, about fifteen hundred feet below the surface. The fire commenced about three o’clock on the morning of the first of January, and raged fiercely until two o’clock the next day, when it was discovered to have ignited in the lower pump slope 900 feet, and up through the Bull pump slope 600 feet to the surface, burning down the engine-house and closing the slope.

The Short Mountain slope, which had hitherto been the intake or downcast, now became reversed, the flames now coming up through this slope to the surface, burning out the timber very rapidly closing it up. A stream of water was conducted into it on the morning of the 5th. Some large hose was at once procured and attached to the column of one of the steam pumps, conducting the water down in sufficient quantities to prevent the fire from getting into the Lykens Valley slope eastward. The fire being met by large streams of water on its eastern and western sides, no further danger of its spreading was anticipated.

A large force of men were at once put to work to extinguish the fire in the various gangways, air-courses, and flue-ways which were found burning, the heat being intense, the men having to work under great difficulties, from heat, vapor, etc., but finally succeeded in extinguishing the fire in the interior of the mine, which had been slowly but surely filling up with the waters of Bear Creek.

After 40 days the fire was considered to be entirely quenched, the work of re-opening the mines was commenced, the pump and hoisting slopes were re-opened and timbered, and the gangways at the present time are being re-timbered, preparatory to resuming operations in 1878.

The work of repairing the damage done by this fire was both dangerous and costly, but was brought to a successful termination. No lives were lost, only one person injured, (arm broken) by a fall of rock, and when resumption of work takes place at this colliery it will be a great blessing to the workingmen who have had to endure a great many privations by being thrown out of employment in consequence of this accident.

A freight train passed down the Lykens Valley Railroad in April 1878 with the first shipment of anthracite coal delivered from the Short Mountain Colliery since the discovery of the mine fire on January 1, 1877. That event ended more than a year’s worth of chaos and desperation for the residents of Lykens and Wiconisco.


Featured Image: The Pennsylvania Coat of Arms from the 1877 Pennsylvania State Mine Inspectors Report 

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