Skip to content
Stay Out! Stay Alive!
Stay Out! Stay Alive!
Near Misses
Incidents that could have resulted in a fatality, but did not.


Two people were injured early Wednesday in an explosion that investigators believe occurred as they used a cutting torch to steal metal at an idled coal mine, the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training said.

Investigators found evidence an acetylene torch set off a methane explosion about 1 a.m. at Eagle Energy Inc.'s Mine No. 1 near Van in Boone County, Miners' Health, Safety and Training spokeswoman Caryn Gresham said.

Gresham said investigators believe the victims were using the torch to cut steel beams from a sealed ventilation shaft.

The shaft was sealed with 18 inches of concrete, reinforced with the beams and ventilated with a steel pipe that allows methane to bleed out of the mine, said Jeff Gillenwater, a spokesman for Massey Energy Co. The Richmond, Va.-based coal company is the mine's current controller.

"My understanding is these guys were attempting to steal that metal,'' Gillenwater said.

Gresham said the victims were taken to hospitals and one was sent to a burn center, but she had no additional information about them or their condition.

The explosion is the latest in a string of dangerous incidents involving scrap metal scavengers. It's become a national problem caused by a sharp increase in prices for scrap copper and other metal.

A year ago, rescuers followed carbon dioxide emitted by a fire two metal scroungers had built for warmth after getting lost deep inside another idled Massey mine. In April, two men were arrested after getting lost scavenging for metal in a third Massey mine.

"People should never try to enter old mines. It's just too dangerous,'' Gillenwater said. "We've got to have stiffer penalties on metal theft to deter people.''

In June, a Kentucky man was electrocuted while apparently trying to steal copper wire from atop a Mingo County utility pole. At least three men were electrocuted in West Virginia last year during the alleged theft of copper wire.

Some state lawmakers are hoping to put metal theft on the agenda if Gov. Joe Manchin calls a special session this summer. Manchin vetoed legislation designed to address the problem after this year's session because of civil liberties concerns.

(Source: Charleston Daily Mail)