Underground coal fire in China extinguished after 50 years

By Xinhua

Urumqi (China) : An underground fire that has consumed more than 12.43 million tonnes of coal in northwest China has been extinguished after more than 50 years.

Support TwoCircles

The Coalfield Fire Fighting Project Office of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Tuesday announced the fire in the Terak field had been finally doused, saving an estimated 651 million tonnes of coal from burning.

Officials would closely monitor the coal seam and submit a report in 2009 to regional and national authorities, said Cai Zhongyong, deputy head of the office.

The fire, covering 923,500 square metres, was fuelled by coal more than 100 metres underground. It released more than 70,000 tonnes of toxic gas, including sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide each year since it started in the early 1950s, Cai said.

“First, we drilled into the burning coal bed and then poured water and slurry into it to lower the temperature,” said Miao Pu, head of the fire fighting team.

“After the temperature dropped, we covered the surface to starve the fire of oxygen.”

Underground coal fires, most of which occur spontaneously, are common in the Xinjiang coalfields. Some fires have been burning for almost a thousand years and are technically very difficult to put out.

The region, with estimated coal reserves between 1.82 trillion and 2.19 trillion tonnes or 40.5 percent of China’s total, has so far put out 34 coalfield fires and plans to extinguish another 28 by 2015.

The local Coalfield Fire Fighting Project Office was established in 1958 to extinguish long-term coalfield fires plaguing the region.

With an annual production of 50 million tonnes, Xinjiang is China’s second largest coal producer after the northern province of Shanxi Terak.