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Ventilation, firefighting equipment faulted in deadly mine fire in West Virginia

By Tim Huber
The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State investigators said missing walls and mismatched and faulty firefighting equipment contributed to the deaths of two miners in a fire last January.

The blaze, which broke out in a conveyor belt, filled the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine with smoke, and the miners died after becoming separated from their crew. Investigators found the that fire started from the friction of a misaligned belt in a conveyor that carries coal out of the shaft.

The Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training found that the mine lacked “stoppings” — walls typically constructed of blocks to seal off parts of a mine and control air flow — and that their absence let smoke enter the main escape route.

Also, water lines for firehoses and sprinklers were shut off, and hoses could not be connected because the fittings did not match, the investigators said.

The agency issued 169 violation notices and recommended withdrawal or suspension of seven miners’ certificates, the report said.

Massey said in a statement that it is “deeply saddened” by the deaths, and it did not dispute the findings. “At Aracoma, it appears that deficiencies were not fully recognized by mine personnel or by state or federal inspectors,” Massey said.

The United Mine Workers union said the report shows Massey’s mine was “set up to be a death trap.”

“Everywhere you turn in this report, there is another safety procedure that was supposed to be followed that wasn’t or safety equipment that was supposed to be in place that either wasn’t there or didn’t work,” said UMW President Cecil Roberts.

The fire remains the subject of an investigation by MSHA and a criminal probe by federal prosecutors.