About 2 o'clock P.M., on May 20, 1918 a fire occurred in the main-air-course of the Villa Mine of the Mill Creek Cannel Mining Company, resulting in the death of thirteen men and two mules, only two men escaping alive.
All of the men died from suffocation. Four bodies were recovered about 6 P.M. on the clay following the fire and the remaining nine were located and removed early on the morning of May 22nd.
Story of the Accident
The fire originated in the air-course at the point where the ventilating equipment was located. It appears that the engine either took fire, due probably to overheating, or else the gasoline tank exploded. The exact cause will likely never be determined.
Due to the high inflammability of the coal, the ribs of the air-course, which were only a few feet away, were readily ignited.
Conceding that the fan engine was idle as the boy attendant testified at the inquest in Charleston on May 25th, nevertheless the mine was rapidly filled with smoke and the exit of thirteen of the fifteen men underground was cut off. With some assistance from the outside, two of the trapped men were able to escape through the shaft tapping the old workings.
Nine of the entombed men attempted to erect a barricade to the afterdamp by placing a stopping of gob and coal across a narrow room. The room was approximately 15 feet wide and the barricade, which was placed about ten feet from the room face, had reached a height of two feet when death overtook the entombed men. Even had they been successful in completing the stopping, life would have been prolonged only a short time on account of the very limited space sealed up.
The nine bodies were found back of the barricade together with nine dinner buckets, four powder flasks and three shovels.
The four men first discovered evidently were overcome quickly as they had not traveled a great way from their working places, nor had they made any attempt to protect themselves by barricading.
That grave responsibility devolves on those charged with the safety of the men in the mine.
From a standpoint of safety, the practice of operating ventilating equipment as was done in this case cannot be too severely condemned.
Had a second opening been provided, it is possible that no lives would have been lost.