Forest Service Discovers Coal Seam Lit During Plateau Fire

Oct 18, 2019

Forest Service personnel have discovered a burning coal seam northeast of Dolores in the San Juan National Forest. 

The fire was discovered on Oct. 9, according to a statement issued Thursday by acting public affairs officer Devin Wanner. The statement says the coal seam has been burning since the Plateau Fire in 2018 and is east of Forest Service Road 525, within the wildfire’s burn scar.


The fire will continue burning until it runs out of coal, producing little smoke but with a strong creosote smell. Due to the high temperatures and unstable surface around the burning seam, the service says the public should avoid the area.


KSJD has made a request for photos of the surface around the burning coal seam.

File photo of the Plateau Fire burning on Aug. 16, 2019.
Credit Courtesy of San Juan National Forest


The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, part of the U.S. Interior Department, estimated about 100 underground fires were burning in 2013 across nine states. The office treats that number as an underestimate of the amount of nationwide underground fires.


The service says the underground fire could reach the surface and ignite vegetation. If you spot a surface fire near the seam, report it like any other wildfire by calling 911 or Durango Interagency Dispatch at 970-385-1324.


The Coal Seam Fire will be analyzed further in 2020 to assess fire activity and the amount of remaining coal.