The New Straitsville mine fires are said to have started November 13, 1884, when striking miners pushed burning cars into a mine, during a strike over wages between the New Straitsville Mining Company’s management and mine workers. A small group of union members decided to sabotage the mines. Cars filled with oil-soaked timber were set on fire and were pushed into a mine owned by the New Straitsville Mining Company. The fire quickly spread to the coal seam underground.
Reportedly, the coal seam was fourteen feet across and extended an undetermined distance into the Earth. It took several days for the fire to be discovered. By that point, it was too late to stop the fire’s spread. As a result of the fire, the mine closed. The New Straitsville mine fire has raged ever since 1884.
In 1936, the WPA began work to stop the spread of the fire by building barriers across burning veins of coal. In 1938, nearly 350 men were employed on the project, which then was estimated to cost less than $1, 000, 000. Under the direction of James R. Cavanaugh, a veteran mine fire fighter, tunnels were driven through veins in the path of the fire, and were filled with a clay-water mixture or similar non-burning material.
The mines fires affected coal deposits in Hocking and Perry Counties in southeastern Ohio. It was estimated that by 1938 the coal destroyed, more than two hundred square miles, was worth fifty million dollars. In 2003, smoke began to emerge from the soil of the Wayne National Forest, 119 years after the fire began.
Written on the back of the photograph:
“Perry County – A refugee from the New Straitsville Mine Fire is Mrs. Elizabeth Green, 75-year-old widow, who was driven from her little cottage on top Plummer Hill by the ‘black damp’ or carbon dioxide.
Mrs. Green lived here for 20 years and in recent years as the fire crept closer she has been forced to flee several times, returning when the gas abated.
Recently, however, she was forced to leave her home permanently when the ‘black damp’ (a suffocating gas) seeped through fissures in her cellar in such volume that it put out the fire in her stove and in her oil lamp and would have killed her had she tarried.
She is shown here gathering up a few possessions.
The cottage now is not only full of gas but it is in imminent danger of sinking into the earth which has been underained by the fire. She has moved into the village of New Straitsville about a mile away where she lives with her sister, Mrs. Nelly Walters.
‘It’s awful crowded in the city, ‘ she remarked ruefully.”
Thank you to Carla Zikursh, Ohio History Service Tech Corps member (2010-2011) at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!