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Mining accident - Wikipedia

They are monstrous, centuries-old infernos that issue thick billows of ash and smoke, and generate sinkholes that consume roads and homes without warning. Yet in spite of the dangers they pose, underground coal fires are some of the least known environmental disasters. In some ways an underground coal fire works the same as a barbeque pit: coal is highly flammable, and stays ignited as long as there is oxygen and coal to burn. If a coalfield has an oxygen source, anything from a cigarette butt to a lightning strike can trigger a fire. Coal fires also pump out carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

So it comes as no surprise that China, which accounted for Hundreds of fires proliferate the nearly 3,mile coal belt running across north China. In China, though, the main concern regarding coal fires is not environmental, but economic.

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So when it burns it is greater economic loss. Firefighting crews endure scalding heat and toxic fumes to put out the superficial flames, but the true enemy lies deep beneath the surface, sustained by oxygen-rich fissures in the earth. Underground fires cause the earth above them to cave in as the burning coal turns to ash, simultaneously fueling the oxygen supply and causing massive sinkholes that destroy roads and buildings. Extinguishing operations in China are not sophisticated—crews use bulldozers and sand or gravel to cover exposed areas and pump water and slurry underground—but the undertaking is a herculean one, requiring months or years of constant toil to completely put out a fire.

It also costs millions of dollars. Still, there is evidence that China has taken steps to address its coal fires. In the last twenty years, China has participated in two international consortiums with researchers from the Netherlands and Germany focusing on coal fire prevention, detection, and treatment.

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Regional governments, which previously reported coal fires as spontaneous occurrences, now extol lofty multi-million dollar plans to extinguish them. The crisis of coal fires is nothing new in Xinjiang Province in northwest China. The region has been attempting to manage the fires for over fifty years, but the task poses extreme challenges for firefighters. A government-backed project to quench the year-old fire burning up the Liuhuanggou colliery in Xinjiang began in A year later, the celebration was shown to be premature, as smoke was spotted issuing from a new fire in Liuhuanggou.

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The culprit? Illegal mining operations that had left the seam exposed. Although China may not be entirely turning a blind eye to the fires, it appears its preference may be for the rest of the world to do so. China requires researchers to consent to confidentiality agreements that forbid them from publishing coal fire locations or plotting them on maps in detail, and refuses to release the data it collects monitoring fires outside of the country.