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Feds Probe Fatal Fire at W.Va. Mine

April 7, 2006

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Federal prosecutors are investigating a fire at a West Virginia coal mine that killed two men earlier this year, U.S. attorney Charles T. Miller said Thursday.

Miller said the case was referred to his office by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, which has been investigating the Jan. 19 fire with state mine safety officials.

Miller said his office would determine whether any federal criminal laws had been violated. He did not elaborate, and said he did not expect to comment further during the investigation.

MSHA also did not provide any further information.

The mine in Logan County where the deaths occurred is owned by Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy. Company representatives did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

The fire started along a beltline more than two miles inside Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1. Investigators have not said how the blaze started, but the probe has resulted in more than 100 violations being uncovered.

Last week, a state report showed that dozens of electrical violations at the Alma mine were not discovered by state inspectors until after the fire.

It was also determined that the state had not conducted an electrical inspection at the mine for at least two years.

Inspectors also discovered that Massey could not produce records to show that monthly tests had been conducted on the firefighting system that protected the beltline where the fire occurred.

Nor could the company show that miners had undergone routine fire safety drills.

The fire occurred less than three weeks after 12 miners died following an explosion Jan. 12 at the Sago Mine, about 180 miles away. The Sago Mine is owned by International Coal Group Inc.

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