UK — An underground fire could burn for years after breaking out in a disused 119-year-old coal mine.
Bemused walkers dialled 999 over the weekend after smoke started pouring out of the ground on a footpath between a golf club and the River Tyne near Newcastle.
Since then the fire has shown no sign of going out – and experts have established it is on land which formed part a colliery that closed permanently 49 years ago.
They believe the land was part of the Clara Vale Colliery, which opened in 1896 and employed more than 1,100 people at its peak in the 1930s.
The mine’s production declined in the 1950s and it employed fewer than 600 people by the time it closed in 1966.
Fortunately for the firefighters, they believe the blaze’s fuel is spoil which was used to fill in two ponds – not a coal seam, which have been known to burn for thousands of years.
One seam, Burning Mountain in New South Wales, Australia, is thought to have been on fire for 5,000 years since it was ignited by a lightning strike – providing an unusual attraction for tourists who flock to the smell of sulphur.
Another coal seam fire in Ohio is still burning despite being set alight in 1884.
Without significant excavation the experts still have no idea how long the new fire in Crawcrook, Tyne and Wear, will be alight.
They have closed the footpath as a precaution amid fears the land will cave in, bringing the trees which line the river with it.
Gary Yates, watch manager at Swalwell fire station, said: ‘There is an underground fire which is quite a rare occurrence.
‘Generally they are caused by either a coal seam or a mix of aggregates accumulated and spoil from the coal heap.
‘In this case we spoke to the National Coal Board and it’s unlikely to be a coal seam.
‘We looked at an Ordnance Survey map from the 1940s and in the exact spot as the fires there used to be two large ponds and these have been back filled.
‘That’s what appears to be on fire, we can’t say for certain but it’s likely to be a mix of spoil.
‘The last one of this nature was at the site of Watergate Park in 1993 – that fire went on for two years at the former Watergate Colliery.’
He added: ‘The fire could burn for a day, a week or a month. The fire could burn itself out. It is one of the most difficult incidents to deal with.’
The closure is a blow to the rural area’s well-worn riverside walk.
‘It is a very popular route,’ Mr Yates said. ‘There is a possibility of collapse – if the fire is burning underground there’s a potential to create a cavity.
‘There are trees between 25ft to 40ft from the path and with the fire burning underground there it could be burning the roots and they could then fall.’