Mount Harris, CO Explosion In Victor American Mine, Jan 1942
34 MINERS DIE IN COLO. BLAST.
MEN ESCAPING BY AIR SHAFT GIVE ALARM.
TERRIFIC BLAST IS NOT HEARD ABOVE GROUND.
Mount Harris, Jan. 28. -- Thirty-four coal miners perished in one of Colorado's worst recent disasters, an explosion late last night at the Victor American Fuel company's Wadge mine.
Only four men escaped alive.
Black damp, deadly carbon dioxide gas, filled the shaft after the blast and impeded the work of rescue crews who were unable to reach the victims until 4 o'clock this morning, six hours after the blast.
Nearly every family in this small mining community 200 miles northwest of Denver had relatives employed in the mine.
It was another six hours before the first bodies were brought out -- six bodies carried on stretchers on a mine car. They were burned so badly that identification could not be made immediately.
Trapped Mile Inside Tunnel.
Mine superintendent HENRY JOHNSON said the 34 men were trapped about 5,500 feet inside the tunnel of the mine, which slopes at an angle of about 10 degrees into Mount Harris.
The four who escaped were working nearer the entrance. They heard the blast and fled.
Rescue crews fought the suffocating gas with huge blowers, forcing air into the mine and sucking the fumes out.
Families Rush To Pit.
The miners' families rushed to the pit from their homes in the surrounding towns of Craig, Hayden and Steamboat Springs, but were advised to return to their homes.
Ambulances and hearses were called from all surrounding towns, and state mine inspector THOMAS ALLEN left for the scene from Denver immediately.
The four who were rescued were JOE GALL, BILL FICKLE, ELMER EVERSON and MIKE ATANOSOFF.
Dead Are Listed.
Superintendent JOHNSON announced the dead were:
ANTONIO ADAME, 42; PETE CRETON, 54; BOB NANCE, 46; TONY SKUFCA, 39; WALTER BLOUNT, 50; HARVEY HARDIN, 46.
JOE MARTINEK, 55; PLUTARCO ADAME, 45; JOE SERTICH, 50; TIM TRUJILLO, 26; TOM McKNIGHT, 54; HARRY OLIVER, SR., 55.
ADRIAN VRIEZEMA, 21; CHARLES VUCKOMAN, 49; KENNETH HOCKMAN, 32; HARRY MOORE, 29; PHILIP GONZALES, 50; MAX BUSTOS, 65.
H. H. HARTMAN, 47; JACK GASPARICH, 42; GEORGE SEARLES, 40; and H. T. BEEN, 37, all of Mount Harris.
HARRISON WARD, 44 and LEO BECK, 42, and ARTHUR VAN CLEAVE, 34, all of Steamboat Springs; RALPH CABLE, 30; ROSS CABLE, 35; RAYMOND CABLE, 28, and ELMER HINDEMAN, 40, all of Hayden.
JOE GOODRICH, 40; DON FORD, 25; RAYMOND POPE, 28; CHARLES BAKER, 37, and FRANK SHEPHERD, 33, all of Craig.
H. H. HARTMAN, 47; JACK GASPARICH, 42 and GEORGE SEARLES, 40.
BILL FICKLE, one of the men rescued, said the four heard a "dull thud from way back in the hole. In a second we smelled smoke and ran for the air shaft."
Thirty volunteer workers set up an improvised morgue at Liberty Hall, the old opera house at Mount Harris, to receive the bodies after they are brought to the snow-covered surface.
Other Mine Closed Down.
Schools were dismissed for the day in Mount Harris, a town of about 1,800 population. Workers in the community's other coal mine, the Colorado-Utah, which employs between 300 and 400 men, were told not to report for work.
After the first rush of excitement following the blast relatives of the doomed miners stood stoically on the cold, bleak hill awaiting further news of their men. Then, a few at a time, they took the officials advice and went home.
Came Out Thru Air Shaft.
FICKLE, a 35-year-old miner said he and his companions came out thru the air shaft, a smaller tunnel paralleling the main tunnel. They were "uncomfortable but not sick," he said.
"If we had to go a couple of hundred yards in the mine we wouldn't have made it."
Blast Not Heard Outside Mine.
The quartet climbed from the air shaft to the blower house, and brought out the first word of the tragedy.
The explosion had not been heard outside the mine and the survivors had been unable to get an answer on a telephone near the air shaft entrance.
121 Killed In 1917.
The explosion was Colorado's worst coal mine disaster since 1917, when 121 lives were lost at the Hastings mine in Las Alamas county.
Since 1922, only 32 lives had been lost.
Methane Blamed By Expert.
Denver, Jan. 28 -- A theory that a mixture of methane gas and air exploded and caused the disaster at the Victor-American Wadge mine at Mount Harris, where 34 miners died last night, was advanced today by JAMES W. GRAHAM, in charge of mine rescue work for the state board of vocational education.
Before leaving Denver for Mount Harris, GRAHAM said that methane sometimes occurs in pockets or faults in coal deposits. With air it forms a mixture that can be exploded by a spark, he said.
A report made last November by FINLEY McCALLUM, deputy state coal mine inspector, said ventilation was good at the Wadge mine and gas had not been a problem there.
THOMAS ALLEN, state coal mine inspector, notified his office that 24 men equipped with oxygen helmets were handling the rescue work.
Both ALLEN and McCALLUM were at the mine.
W. H. FORBES, engineer in charge of rescue work for the United States Bureau of Mines, two inspectors and two safety men left Denver last midnight for Mount Harris in a truck equipped with mine rescue apparatus.
No School At Hayden.
Residents of both Mount Harris and Hayden were stunned by the disaster. Hayden school officials followed the lead of Mount Harris and sent out word that there would be no school.
A basketball game between Mount Harris and Steamboat Springs scheduled for tonight was cancelled -- CHARLES WARD, center of the Hayden team, was the son of HARRIS WARD, one of the mine victims. A game with Meeker Friday probably will be cancelled.
Ambulances from Craig and Steamboat Springs as well as Hayden were lined up beside the mine company's ambulance near the mine but the hopes of the watching relatives that any of the ambulances sould be needed grew dimmer thru the morning.
The explosion took four members of one family, RALPH, ROSS and RAYMOND CABLE were brothers, and RALPH was a brother-in-law of ELMER HINDEMAN.
The Greeley Daily Tribune Colorado 1942-01-28