Eight Days In A Burning Mine
The mine was then sealed up, so that the fire would die out from lack of oxygen, and all efforts to enter it failed until the following Saturday--one week after the fire had broken out, when a rescue party went below and found twenty men in the second vein who had managed to remain alive, and these were saved. The rest of the miners in both veins, about three hundred in number, were found dead.
I was one of the unfortunate men who were imprisoned in the mine on the day of the fire, and also one of the fortunate twenty who managed to survive the dangers and terrors of the fire and subsequent closing of the mine, and who were rescued one week later. In the following narrative I have endeavoured to give a truthful account of my experiences during that terrible week as well as I can remember them. The horror and hopelessness of our situation temporarily affected my mind, and the adventure takes a place in my memory like some awful nightmare, of which only the salient details are clear.
On the day of the fire I was at work in the second vein, about a mile from the main shaft in a southerly direction, with my partner, or " buddy," John Lorimer. We were, I think, about the farthest away from the shaft of any of the men working in the mine, and to this may be attributed the fact that no hint that anything was wrong reached us until we stopped working as usual shortly before half-past three o'clock, and set out for the shaft, to be hoisted out. With us went an old man named Alexander Kroll and his fifteen-year-old son, who worked near us.
After we had proceeded about half a mile towards the shaft we detected a faint odour of smoke, which became more marked as we advanced, until it was almost unendurable. Then we knew that the mine was on fire and that there was danger ahead. We saw no men on our way -although many miners were afterwards found dead in the places through which we passed -- and thought that we might be the only ones remaining in the mine. We may have passed near other men in the darkness and smoke without seeing them or revealing our presence to them. Mr. Kroll, who was not as strong as the rest of us, was almost overcome by the smoke, and would have fallen had we not helped him along. It was pitiful to hear the boy exhorting us to save his father.
After what seemed an interminable time we finally reached the bottom of the main shaft. Everything combustible in the large open space about the shaft was enveloped in flames. Cars of coal, the mule-barn, the pump-house and other buildings, and the timbers of the shaft were all in a blaze. The heat was intolerable, and the smoke so dense that one could see only a few feet before him. It made out eyes smart so that tears ran from them. Staggering and choking, we groped our way to the shaft and looked for the cage, but it was not there.
This, we thought, confirmed our theory that we had been overlooked when the men were taken out, and were now left alone to die in the fire. Lorimer found the crank which rang the bell in the engine-room above to signal the hoisting-engineer, and frantically turned it several times. The iron handle was almost red-hot from the heat, and burned his hand so that he had to desist. The signal brought no result, and we looked in vain for the cage to appear amid the flames in the shaft. Some who have heard our stories since we were rescued think that the cage containing the rescue-party was even then in the shaft, being hoisted after its last trip, and that our signals, confused with those of the men in the cage, may have been responsible for its being lowered back into the flames, and the consequent death of the twelve rescuers. This may well have been the case, as our arrival there and the last trip of the cage almost coincided in point of time.