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Investigation of Fatal Utah Mine Fire To Begin Monday

January 20, 1985

PRICE, Utah (AP) _ Federal and state mining investigators will hold five days of closed-door hearings, beginning Monday, into the causes of a mine fire that killed 27 people, a federal official says.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials and the state’s chief mine inspector will hear from 29 witnesses and will examine mine records and evidence gathered by rescue workers, said Noah Malin, a spokesman for the federal agency.

The 27 miners and officials of the Emery Mining Corp. died when a fire broke out at the Wilberg Mine on Dec. 19 as they worked toward a longwall coal mining production record.

Officials speculate the fire may have been caused by an overheated bearing or electrical failure on the conveyor system in the corridor where the fire started.

More than 100 rescue and support workers labored around the clock for days, first in the hope of rescuing the miners, then trying to recover their remains, before the stubborn, unpredictable fire forced evacuation of the mine Dec. 23.

Twenty-five bodies were located, two never were found, and all remain deep within the mountain where the fire continues to burn.

Portals of the mine were sealed and officials are waiting for the blaze to die out, said Bob Henrie, spokesman for Emery Mining Corp., which operates the mine for Utah Power & Light Co.

Malin said investigators will question witnesses about conditions inside the mine, mining practices and possible causes of the fire.

″Then from that, the investigators will try to glean whatever they can about possible causes and culpability, if any,″ he said from the agency’s headquarters in Arlington, Va.

″We can assure you it’s going to be thorough - sometimes the pace is frustrating, but we have to take great pains to cover every possible detail,″ he said.

The investigators also will determine whether violations of federal law may have contributed to the fire and try to learn how to prevent similar fires in the future, Malin said.

Emery Mining and United Mine Workers of America representatives will attend the hearings and may ask clarifying questions, but will not be allowed to cross-examine witnesses, said Frank O’Gorman, another federal spokesman.

O’Gorman said details of the testimony will not be released until the hearings are complete.

Meanwhile, full production has resumed at the adjacent Deer Creek Mine, and Emery Mining hopes to have the nearby Des-Bee-Dove in full operation by the end of the month. The company also operates those mines for Utah Power & Light.

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