Texas company claims it can put out Centralia fire
CENTRALIA - A Texas company believes its fire-fighting foam can extinguish the coal fire that's been burning here for almost 50 years, according to an article in Earth Magazine.
CAFSCO Fire Control, based in Fort Worth, Texas, said its compressed nitrogen foam system - originally designed to snuff forest fires - has been adapted to fight underground coal fires with much success.
"There are no limits to the types of mines or size of fire that we can put out," said Lisa LaFosse, co-owner of CAFSCO told Earth Magazine. "We can fill up any mine with foam," she said.
The company's system is safer and more cost-effective than the tried-and-true technique of digging out the fires, according to Mark Cummins, founder and co-owner of CAFSCO.
"We can put out a fire at a tenth of the usual cost, and we don't even have to see the fire to fight it," he said. CAFSCO's method would also leave unburned coal seams intact, unlike digging out a fire.
CAFSCO's biodegradable fire-suppressing foam is pumped into an underground mine through surface boreholes, where it expands to fill every nook and cranny, soaking all the fuel and smothering the fire. The expansion of the foam also forces out any unconsumed oxygen that could further feed the fire.
The company has put out dozens of coal fires across the United States using its state-of-the-art foam, company spokesmen said. The largest fire it knocked down took more than 700 million gallons of foam, but CAFSCO came through, in the end.
"I understand the difficulties of the Centralia fire, but I know what this foam is capable of doing and I really believe we can put it out," Cummins said says.
State officials remain a bit skeptical. Tom Rathbun, of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said, "we would need to see more evidence, track records, proof that it works. Centralia is a huge project and we don't have the money to experiment with it."
Not only that, but no one's certain of the extent of the fire, according to the story.
While captivating many with its longevity and the attention paid, Centralia is only one of hundreds of coal fires going around the world, according to Earth Magazine. In fact, there are 37 other mine fires in the commonwealth alone.
China alone loses between 100 million and 200 million tons of coal each year to mine fires, as much as 20 percent of the nation's annual production, the story said.
Many coal fires are left to burn because mine fires are too hazardous, expensive and complicated to handle, Earth Magazine reported.
Part of the problem lies in a dearth of effective firefighting options: Water can cause steam explosions. Cement and fly ash slurries usually only work on smaller blazes. Digging out and smothering the fire on teh surface is dangerous and costly on larger fires, like Centralia.
Efforts to extinguish Centralia have always been hamstrung by limited budgetary options, according to officials.
That's where CAFSCO's foam comes in. Cummins said Centralia could be extinguished in about a month. The price tag would come in around $60 million, Cummins said.