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The Fire Is Out, but Questions Burn Over the Future of the Soudan Mine

13 April 2011; Soudan Mine Fire Update

The Fire Is Out, but Questions Burn Over the Future of the Soudan Mine.

It was just about the last place where I expected to hear about a fire, but on the morning of March 19th, I was listening to the morning news, when they announced that there was a fire burning at the Soudan Mine. The reason I was surprised to hear about a fire at the Soudan Mine is that the place people visit on the 27th level is almost all solid rock. In many underground mines timbers were needed to support the works. You didn’t have to do that at the Soudan Mine. The rock is so solid that it needs no additional support, so at first I wondered just where the fire was burning.

One of the places in the mine that there is a lot of wood is in the shaft that hauls the people from the surface 2341 feet down to the 27th level, and then it hauls them back again. Each off season the maintenance team works hard to make sure the mine is safe for the thousands of people who visit each year. In order to make sure the shaft is safe some of it is lined with concrete and the back of the shaft is lined with timbers. That is where the fire started and this fire was burning around two thousand feet underground. It was the biggest chimney fire Minnesota has seen in a long time.

They pumped thousands of gallons of foam down the Number 8 Shaft in order to extinguish the fire. After a few days the fire was out, and they were able to get a team down to the 27th level to assess the damages both to the mine’s history tour, and the Minos Project which is housed in a large lab carved out of the rock. When the team reached the bottom, they found a mess.

The foam was eight feet deep in Shaft Station, and the eight foot deep foam went a 150 feet down both the east and west drifts. The foam forced open a door to the lab, and in some places the foam reached 15 feet high. It appears that no major damage was done to the lab or tour level, but it will take time to clean up the mess. It is fire damage to the shaft which is causing the main concern for the DNR people who operate the Soudan Mine State Park where safety is a vital concern.

A crew was doing some welding in the shaft shortly before the fire was first reported and it looks like some sparks from the welder may have lodged in the timber lining the back wall of the inclined shaft, and that is thought to be a possible cause of the fire, but state experts will make a determination at a later date.

I talked to James Pointer who manages the summer tourist season at the Soudan Mine, and I asked if the March 17th fire placed the 2011 tourist season in jeopardy or whether they will be able to clean up after the fire, and repair the damage to the shaft before the late May start up. According to James Pointer it is just too early to say whether or not the season will be ready to go next month or whether the fire damage will close the mine while repairs are made to the shaft. Keep reading our blogs on the Ely Buzz and we’ll let you know when things will start humming again at the Soudan Mine.

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