West Virginia’s first major mine explosion of the 20th century occurred March 6, 1900, at Red Ash Mine on New River in Fayette County. On the night of March 5, a machine operator had left open a ventilating trap door, allowing methane to gather. The next morning, some workers, violating both custom and state law, traveled toward their working faces before the late-arriving fireboss had completed his gas checks. Probably, their open lights set off a methane ignition which instantly brought explosive coal dust into the air, adding to the intensity of the blast. Several kegs of blasting powder ignited as the explosion coursed through the mine, twisting rails, destroying mine cars, and hurling men, mules, and timbers against the ribs.
As usual in coal mine explosions, most of the 46 victims suffocated in the carbon monoxide atmosphere (afterdamp) following the blast, including the fireboss, who had held his vest to his face in a futile effort to filter the afterdamp. Recovery workers reached the last of the victims on March 10, and the mine resumed operation on March 26.
Five years later a second tragedy occurred at the Red Ash Mine, by then connected to the neighboring Rush Run Mine. Rush Run and Red Ash mines maintained, by the standards of the day, excellent ventilation. Yet, fine coal dust created by mining machinery abounded. On the evening of March 18, 1905, only 13 men remained underground in the two mines. In a freak occurrence, a mine car ran over some loose explosives. The resulting concussion and flame suspended and ignited coal dust, causing a massive explosion which coursed through both mines.
Carelessly, a rescue party, some carrying open-flame lights, entered the Red Ash portal. Either burning timbers or the rescuers’ open lights set off another explosion. Although not as powerful as the first, this second explosion on March 19 killed all 11 members of the rescue party underground, shot flame out the drift mouth, and tossed people standing outside several feet down the hillside toward New River. It required ten days to restore ventilation and recover all 24 bodies.
This Article was written by Paul H. Rakes
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Dillon, Lacy A. They Died in the Darkness. Parsons: McClain, 1976.
Donnelly, Clarence Shirley. Notable Mine Disasters of Fayette County, West Virginia. Oak Hill: Fayette County Historical Society, 1951.
West Virginia Department of Mines. Annual Reports. 1900 & 1905.
Cite This Article
Rakes, Paul H. "Red Ash, Rush Run Explosions." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 October 2010. Web. 28 February 2015.