Chinese extinguish 50 year fire

After three-year effort, Chinese firefighters extinguish blaze that had been burning underground in coalmine for more than 50 years After a three-year effort and untold quantities of water, Chinese firefighters have extinguished a fire that had been burning underground in a coalmine for more than 50 years.

12.5m tonnes coal consumed, 70,000t toxic gases emitted: According to Jane Macartney, the fire had consumed up to 12.5 million tonnes of coal as it raged unchecked beneath the surface, spewing out more than 70,000 tonnes of toxic gases annually since the 1950s. Miao Pu head of the firefighting team at the Terak mine in Xinjiang, a mainly Muslim region rich in resources, said: "First, we drilled into the burning coal bed and then poured water and slurry into it to lower the temperature. After the temperature dropped we covered the surface to starve the fire of oxygen."

651million tonnes coal saved for mining: As well as staving off further environmental damage, they have saved more than 651 million tonnes of coal, which would be mined to fuel the Chinese economic and industrial juggernaut. The furnace was 100m underground at the second-largest coalfield in Xinjiang.

Only one of thousands of underground coalmine fires: Thousands of underground coalmine fires are believed to cover an area of 720km sq in China. They consume up to 20 million tonnes of high-quality coal and a further 200 million tonnes of coal storage each year. Scientists said the underground fires may produce as much carbon dioxide as about 1 per cent of the total burnt as fossil fuels. The smoke darkened already-polluted skies. The fires emitted poisonous gases and could make the earth cave in — swallowing roads, homes, animals and people — when ash replaced firm coal underground.

The Australian, 23/11/2007, p. 14

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