Gas Ignites, 2 Miners Burned at West Virginia Coal Mine

November 5, 2008

Two coal miners were burned on their faces and arms Nov. 3 when gas ignited, creating a brief flash of fire at a mine in northern West Virginia.

The Whitetail Kittanning Mine was shut down and two investigators were sent to the site in Preston County, said federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokeswoman Amy Louviere. The names of the injured miners were not immediately released. One was a shuttle car operator, the other a heavy equipment operator, Louviere said.

They were taken to a hospital with serious burns, though they were able to walk off a mine elevator after the 1:50 p.m. accident.

Kingwood Mining, a subsidiary of Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha Natural Resources owns the mine.

The burns are not considered life-threatening and the injured miners are being treated at West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh, Alpha spokesman Ted Pile said in an e-mail.

Two weeks ago, the mine was fined more than $763,000 after being cited 13 times in a year for allowing coal dust to accumulate along conveyer belts. Coal dust can catch fire because of friction from the belts, and it can intensify explosions.

The company said it would contest the fines and noted that MSHA could have evacuated the mine had it considered workers in imminent danger.

Whitetail Kittanning employs about 260 people and produces about 1.4 million tons of coal annually.

Alpha operates 57 mines in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The company also is the target of a $3.3 billion takeover by Cleveland-based iron ore producer Cliffs Natural Resources.

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