World Map of Coal Fires
This map shows main coal fire regions of the world.
Copyright DLR, 2002
Besides Ranigani and Singareni and several others areas, Coal fires exist in the region Jharia, north west of Calcutta. The
area extends up to 700 sqkm. In 1997, 160 mine fires were registered. Regional effects are land-slides, sinkholes and land-subsidence.
The region concerned by land-subsidence extends over a surface of 6300 hectares. Meanwhile the town Jharia is endangered by
subsurface fires associated with land-subsidence.
The economic loss is enormous. Since the coal fires exist, the coal production has strongly decreased. It is estimated that
75% of the coal fires result from mining activities. Particularly with surface mining it is shown that coal seams ignite because
of the long open storage and reaction with atmospheric oxygen.
A lot of coal fields in the USA contain coal fire areas. The federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) manages a data base (Abandoned
Mine Land Inventory System, AMLIS) that registered 150 fires in the year 1999. Coal fires are not only in Kentucky, Pennsylvania
and West Virgina east of the Appalachian coal field, but also Colorado in the Rocky Mountains.
In Pennsylvania 45 coal fires exist. One of them is the Centralia pit fire, located in the anthracite coal region in Columbia
County. It can be assumed that the seam ignited when trash was burned in an old open pit. The fire in the open pit caught
an exposed vein of coal seam on fire. Since 1962 a subsurface fire spreads under the town. A series of measures were implemented
to stop the coal fire but in the end the town had to be evacuated because of land-subsidence, air pollution and water contamination.
In Colorado coal fires are ignited by fluctuation of the groundwater table. If dry coal is moisturized with water the temperature
can rise up to 30°C. In those areas precipitation is an important factor for the combustion of coal.
Europe and Russia
Because of the decline of coal mining during the last decades the number of coal fires has been reduced.
The British mining regions had problems with burning heap piles, but with the end of coal mining the fires were excavated
and the heap piles were vegetated. In Germany 7 heap piles are existing with small coal fires. They are controlled by airborne
thermal scanner. The fires are smothered by injections of cement or anhydrite grout. In the north east of France coal with
high potential of spontaneous combustion is still mined. Here special measures are developed for the prevention of fires like
a special ventilation and mining methods where only small quantities of coal are exposed to atmospheric oxygen. Some fires
are reported from eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine). The Ukrainian coal industry has deposited coal oddments
in over 2100 heap piles with a capacity of 2000 million tons. Based on an estimation it is assumed that over 140 heap piles
are burning and that they are producing 15.000 tons CO2 and 5.000 tons CO per year. In 1998 74 coal fires were counted in
Russia. Affected are the regions Kuzbass, Pechora basin and the Donetsk basin. The Tussian site of the Donetsk basin shows
similar problems with coal fires like the Ukrainian site of the same basin.
The large coal deposits of Africa are mainly found in the southern states (South Africa, Zimbawe, Botswana, Mosambique and
Zambia). The export of high quality coal leads to great quantities of coal refuse piles. In these piles fire occurred. After
a study by the South African government in 1985 the storage techniques were improved, so that today coal fires are reduced
to a minimum.
It is reported that in New South Wales a coal seam has been burning for decades on a length of 6 km. Other fires in subsurface
piles could not be extinguished either quenched. In 1994 methane has exploded two times in the mine Moura 2, Queensland. It
is assumed that the gas has been ignited by spontaneous combustion.
China is the largest coal-producer and consumer in the world. However coal resources get lost by uncontrolled coal fires.
These fires occur within a region that stretches over 5000 km east-west and 750 km north-south. You get more detailed information
about the study areas here: STUDY AREAS
The coal fires in Sumatra are limited to the southern region where coal is found in a large quantity. In 1994 28.549 million
tons of coal were produced. In this region the coal seams are uncovered by soil erosion or surface mining and can ignite by
oxygen. Also bush fires can set fire to coal seams. However in dry years it is possible that coal fires ignite forest fires!
In July/August 1997 the Indonesian Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project (FFPCP) observed coal seam fires which has been
burning for 4 years. At the same time 2 new fires are detected in the region Suban Jeriji.
Several times fires were reported from Venezela, but established documents do not exist yet.