USA — Federal officials are working to fill in abandoned copper mines in southwestern Idaho following a wildfire that burned away brush and exposed hidden mine openings while making other known mine openings accessible.
Phil Barbarick of the Bureau of Land Management said the agency on Tuesday backfilled a 40-foot-deep mine shaft that was about 6 feet wide. The agency also has found three horizontal mine openings since the fire.
“We utilize several different methods to close these abandoned mines off,” Barbarick told the Idaho State Journal. “People don’t understand some of the safety issues that they can pose.”
The mines were exposed following the 1,300-acre Drive-in Fire fire last August that burned much of Chinese Peak east of Pocatello. Barbarick said the mines are dangerous because of the potential for long falls or lack of oxygen in the mines.
“Most people that happen across something like this do it by accident,” Barbarick said. “They come through the vegetation and don’t see it and fall in, especially in the dryer months of August and September when the soil around the mouth is soft and can slide easily. A person starts to slip in and can’t stop themselves and go right into the shaft.”
The work to fill the mines is being paid for with Emergency Stability and Rehabilitation funds that the federal government supplied to restore the area following the fire.
Barbarick said before a mine is filled, crews do a search to make sure there are no animals inside or human remains.
“Most of the time we only find old bones of smaller animals such as rabbits or coyotes.” Barbarick said. “We usually don’t find any larger game inside.”
Workers also check for explosives and chemicals left behind by miners.
The burned area is closed to vehicles but remains open to horseback riders and hikers.