Audenried Mine Accident 1879

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Audenried, Carbon County, Pennsylvaniamap
Surnames/tags: Mine Disasters Pennsylvania Disasters
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History and Circumstances

  • Date: 6 May 1879
  • Location: Audenried, Pennsylvania
  • Victims: 6 dead
  • Cause: Fire

History and Circumstances

Area History
  • From Wikipedia,

Audenried is a village in the northwest corner of Carbon County, Pennsylvania located on Route 309. It is located in Banks Township between Hazleton and McAdoo and is split between the Hazleton ZIP code of 18201 and the Beaver Meadows ZIP code of 18216. It is served by the Hazleton Area School District. The Catawissa Creek starts in Audenried and flows westward to the Susquehanna River. The remainder of Carbon County is in the Delaware watershed.

Mine History
Mine Disaster Circumstances
  • Accident No. 15.— William Smith, David B Morgan, John Davis, William Watkins, Sem Lloyd, and Richard Faull all practical miners, were fatally injured, by being burned by gas, while in the act, part of them, and all employed to assist in their endeavors to extinguish a fire in the Audenried shaft colliery, on the sixth day of May last, the details of which, to the best of the writer's knowledge, after a careful inquiry, are as follows :

Mr. Joseph Weir, the mine boss, and Joshua Davis, a fire boss, traveled a part of the colliery known to the workmen of said mine, as the Northwest side, through the faces of the working places outward, and passed a point known as the head of the proving or test-hole, about eleven o'clock A. M. They stated, that knowing that, there were strong feeders or jets of gas in the said test-hole, they extinguished their lamps, (that is their naked lights,) just as they were about to leave a cross-cut from the next place inside, into the said test-hole. There was some brattice of either cloth or boards, at the said point. They then went forward on their trip by the light of their safety-lamps for some distance. In the course of an hour and a half, or two hours, they entered a point of the return air-way from the said part of the mine, when they at once found the scent of something burning, and immediately concluded that there was fire in the aforesaid proving-hole, which was hundreds of yards away from them at this point. They, as a matter of course, repaired towards the proving-hole by way of the tunnel, and there found a strong fire burning from the gas feeders, and what loose coal that was around there, some of which, no doubt, if not all, had already been loosened by the effect of the said fire. No one else than the said officers were known to have been through the said part of the working about that time, and much speculation has been had regarding the origin of the said fire. There were parties working near the lower end of said hole, a distance of about five hundred feet from the origin of the fire, and another party some six or eight chambers to the west of the same. These parties all knew the danger of taking a naked light to the said section. In fact, one of the workmen in the said chambers, had, on a previous occasion, been to the test-hole for lumber, and had ignited the gas feeders there, but his reporting the case immediately, the fire was extinguished, but the miner was suspended for some two or three weeks, for having gone to the said place with naked light, &c. This being known to the miners and workmen at both ends of said proving-hole, it is hardly probable that they ventured there again with naked lights, and they all denied any knowledge of the same. Some persons placed the origin as the carelessness of some of the workmen, others went so far as to intimate it might have been done designedly, or in other words, an act of incendiaryism. While it is possible, but not probable, that either of the above theories might be correct, I rather believe that it occurred from sparks igniting some tinder, chips, or rags lying in the vicinity of the cross-cut, where the mine boss and fire boss extinguished their naked lamps on entering the proving-hole, and that this was fanned by the air-current into flames, which in time, ignited the brattice thereabouts, and from there the gas feeders, unless a small gas feeder should have been first ignited to give it the start.

The lights from the naked lights being put out, and the officers having nothing but the dim light of the safety-lamp, its origin might easily have escaped their notice, as they, no doubt, moved away just as they extinguished their naked lamp-lights, as they had to light their safety-lamps in advance, and, being in a current, it would not be a desirable place to stop. Another reason I have to think this reasoning to be the correct one is this, that Mr. William Smyth, sometime before the men were burned, had made an inspection of the proving hole, from the south side up to near the said cross-cut, and saw that the brattice that was formerly there had been burned down, but that the fire then was all higher up on the apex or top of the anticlinal. Mr. Smyth said he thought from that that the fire must have been started from that point. I agree with him in that of its location, but disagree as to how it originated. So much as to the origin of the said fire. As soon as the fire was discovered a force of men were at once employed to combat it by carrying water from the shaft level gangway, at the tunnel end, as they had no water-works at hand. Finally they connected the pipes used to carry compressed air to drive the rock tunnel to the pump column at the shaft, when the great pressure burst the receiver, which again delayed them considerable, but in time this dificulty was overcome, and a stream carried to the fire. The feeders along the hole for hundreds of feet, had taken fire by this time, but they were struck out very rapidly by the water, until they forced it to the top of the anticlinal or near the location of its origin. By this time considerable top coal had become loosened, and the same was burning fiercely, and every now and then the subdued flames would burst out afresh and ignite the gas feeders on either side of the hole, when the workmen would be forced to retreat down the said narrow pass- age in the direction of the gangway and tunnel mouth, from which they got their, by that time, scanty supply of fresh air, as the place was getting warmer each and every moment.

About eleven o'clock, p. m., Mr. F. B. Parrish, assistant superintendent, called at my residence, when I was first informed of the fire, and I immediately repaired to the mine, and in a short time afterwards, descended the shaft, in company with Messrs. Joseph Harris, mining engineer for the receivers of the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company ; George H. Parrish, superintendent, and F. B. Parrish, assistant superintendent and mining engineer for Charles Parrish & Co.; also, Mr. Dodge. While in the fireman's station, preparing lamps and examining the mine map, preparatory to going to the location of the fire, a messenger came running with the news that a large number of the workmen in the proving hole had been burned seriously. The party at once started towards the scene of the accident, and met the injured men being assisted out by their more fortunate comrades, when we learned that the persons above named, and two others, named John Richards and Levi Gibbons, were dangerously burned. It would seem, from information obtained from parties who were in the proving hole, as it was called, that a short time prior to the men being burned, that they had been driven down from the anticlinal for hundreds of feet, by the ignition of the gas feeders along the sides. It now being about the time to change shift, new hands were on the spot to relieve those who had been there for many hours previous ; but Messrs. Smith and Faull having proved themselves very good and brave in handling the hose and facing the dangers, they were asked to remain for another shift, which they agreed to do ; and they took hold again, and applied the hose with renewed vigor, and, with the assistance of others to pull the hose, forced their way rapidly to the point from which they had been compelled to retreat a short time previously, quenching the gas feeders as they went along. At the critical moment, the feeders had all been put out that were in view, and no light perceptible, except that from a safety lamp or two. The air had become very warm, and some gas could be detected on the flame of the safety lamp, when William Howells, one of the fire bosses, informed the men Smith and Faull, that they better retreat, as the condition of the air was getting to be dangerous. They replied, " that he should take care of the lamp, that they were all right." Howells then cautioned them again, receiving about the same reply, and he moved down the hole a short distance, when suddenly the flames burst out from under the heap of loose coals under the feet of Smith and Faull, and they immediately applied the power of the hose, and tried to check the flames, but it was no use, as they (the flames) then rushed over and on either side, igniting the strong feeders along the hole and down before them for hundreds of feet. This, as a matter of course, caused a retreat of all hands, and even caused the men to be panic- stricken.

The men burned, with the exception of Smith and Faull, were not long in the mine, having changed shift after eleven, P. M. This, added to their misfortune, as they were all sitting down in the dark, on either side of the hole, ready to assist in moving the hose when required, or in turn relieve Smith and Faull. Then, when the gas burst out in flames just as a torpedo, or shell almost, the strange men ran wildly down the test-hole, through the fiery channel, until some of them fell when they were injured considerably from the roughness of the place they had to pass through, besides being burned, and in one case no less than three of the unfortunate beings were jammed between a prop, and the side having fallen on one another after the first got fast. The men all agree in their statements, that there was no concussion felt from the gas igniting, and that the burning was caused mostly by the feeders on both sides. There were several persons in the hole, a short distance below those at the hose who were not burnt at all. Amongst them were Howells, the fire boss, and Loyd, another fire boss, and Weir, the mine boss, with a few others. The officers stated that there were some eight thousand cubic feet of air passing through the tunnel and up through the said test-hole previous to and on the day of the occurrence of this terrible calamity. No doubt in my mind but that the cross-cuts on the anticlinal had by this time been partially closed by the heat and fire, thereby reducing the ventilation. Then again, it is plain that it was a grave mistake to let the men Smith and Faull force their way so rapidly to the top of the anticlinal, without first having taken ample time to cool the top and sides, as well as put out the flames as they went along. In that way there would have been a less amount of gas given off, the place being so much cooler, which would also enable the men to stand more exertions, and the gas would not be so strong about the feeders. Then, again, when the officers observed that the current was being adulterated by the appearance of the flame of the safety lamp, and that it was liable to become to an explosive point, and that the flames were also liable to burst out from the coals underneath the workmen, thereby igniting the said charged current, then I say that the men should have been withdrawn. Mr. Weir, the mine boss, was in the hole at a point below, and this matter should have been attended to when or before Howells, his subordinate, called attention to the matter. In fact, it is only a wonder that matters did not happen even more severe than they did. I learned that some time before this burning of the poor men, Mr. Smyth, superintendent, and Joseph Edwards, had made examination of the north-west side, south of the anticlinal, and that the found the mine full of explosive gas on the west and inside of the said proving hole, when Mr. Smith went out to report to the other officials and change his wet clothing and get something to eat, having been in the mines for many hours. Then I say, what wonder would it have been had this great reservoir of explosive gas ignited and exploded, thereby killing instantly each and every living being within the mine. This condition of things proves pretty conclusively that the ventilation had been obstructed at the junction of the current from the west side, and that from the proving hole in the vicinity of the cross-cuts, there being two of them in the pillar between it and the next place east, and the coal very thick, free and full of slips. Had our party been down a few moments sooner, or had the gas not ignited for a few moments longer, no doubt the writer and some others of the party would have been in the said proving hole. What the result of our getting there would have been cannot well be guessed, but it is possible, however, that the sad fate of the men might have been different, or it might be that we would have shared their terrible end.

As soon as the men injured were all taken out, the question of further operations was at once discussed. Mr. Smyth giving it as his opinion that the place was very dangerous to risk any further work. The condition of the place was described by the parties present, including a statement from Mr. Smyth, about the west side workings having been found full of gas before he went out, &c. The writer then suggested that further efforts to combat the fire with hose be at once abandoned, and that the mine be flooded ; Messrs. Parrish and Smyth at once agreeing. When Mr. Harris suggested the matter of walling off, and cut off the supply of air, then the writer asked how could it be done, as it was too dangerous an operation, and that should such a tiling be attempted the men at work on the same would be all blown to eternity before they could complete the walling, as suggested, in the tunnels or at any other points, and I protested against any such a thing. This view of the case was finally shared in and indorsed by those present, and the matter of flooding the mine was determined upon. In course of further discussion, it was next suggested by Mr. Harris that the fan be stopped, in order to decrease the force of the fire. The writer again suggested the almost certainty of the said plan in causing immediate and terrible explosions, and recommending, instead, that the fan speed be left umchanged, so that the change be more gradual, being caused as the water would fill up in the mine, and that should there finally be an explosion, it would not be so severe, as the water would act as a cushion. This last view was also indorsed and carried out, and without any bad results. An explosion did, undoubtedly, take place on the west side, at some subsequent period, yet such was not felt by any person about the fan or shaft. The mules were then taken out, the bottom of the shaft fenced off, and loose boards, &c., fastened, after which the water from the Empire mine was turned into the mine, and in due time the creek was also used to help fill the burning mine. This is the end of the first scene in a series of awful,yet interesting incidents belonging to this mine, for the year 1879.

Investigation Report


Name Sourced Bio Connected Category
William Smith
David B Morgan
John Davis
Richard Faull
Sem Lloyd
William Watkins

Miner Survivors

  • John Richards
  • Levi Gibbons




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