Utah’s Lila Canyon coal mine is burning; no injuries reported

All miners were safely evacuated, an official said.

(Tribune archives) The Book Cliffs area near Price, Utah, in 2007. Utah's most productive coal mine, located within the Book Cliffs of Emery County, is burning, an official said Sept. 22, 2022.

A fire is burning inside Utah’s most productive coal mine in the Book Cliffs, prompting an emergency response by federal mine regulators at the Emery County site.

All miners were safely evacuated from the Lila Canyon mine after it caught fire underground Tuesday morning, according to Hollie Brown, spokesperson for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. No injuries have been reported.

Officials with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have assumed control of the situation and are directing efforts to extinguish the fire, Brown said.

Brown was not able to provide further details, referring queries to MSHA.

On Friday, MSHA released a statement indicating its staff was at the mine, but without confirming whether the emergency involved a fire or describing what was being done to address the situation.

“MSHA is on-site, working with the mine operator and the State of Utah, to assure that all actions taken by the mine operator are done in accordance with MSHA regulations, to ensure the safety and health of miners,” said the statement, attributed to an unnamed Department of Labor spokesperson.

There is no known threat to public safety associated with the fire, according to the Emery County Sheriff’s Office.

(Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining) Utah’s Lila Canyon coal mine, located in Emery County’s section of the Book Cliffs, caught fire Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, and was still burning underground two days later.

For years the mine had been owned by the late Ohio coal baron Bob Murray, whose company emerged from bankruptcy under a new name. It was another Murray-owned mine in Utah, Crandall Canyon, that collapsed in 2007, claiming the lives of six miners and three rescuers.

The reorganized Murray company, American Consolidated Natural Resources, Inc. and its Utah subsidiary Emery County Coal Resources, Inc. now own and operate Lila Canyon and three non-producing former Murray mines in Utah.

Reached by phone Thursday, the company’s designated resident Jesse Candelaria referred queries to the corporate offices in Ohio. An email to the company was not returned.

The underground mine operates on 8,225 acres of federal and state leases about 10 miles south of East Carbon.

Employing 230, the Lila Canyon mine produces more than 3 million tons of coal a year, much of it burned at PacifiCorp’s Hunter and Huntington power plants, also in Emery County.

Like other Book Cliffs mines, Lila Canyon is known to be moderately “gassy,” meaning its coal deposits can release methane as they are mined, according to DOGM records. It is not known if combustible gas emissions played a role in igniting this week’s fire.