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Recent 911 calls for fire that’s been burning for 120 years

An underground coal seam fire popped to the surface near New Castle recently – flooding the 911 system and reminding people these fires have been burning a long time.

RIFLE — In the town of Rifle, Fire Chief Marshal Orrin Moon and firefighters at Colorado River Fire Rescue usually get calls for fires that are just starting, but this week they have been getting a lot of calls for a fire near New Castle that’s been burning for more than 100 years.

It’s an old coal seam fire that started after mining explosions more than a century ago, and it’s still burning along a vast underground network in that area that sometimes pops up to the surface.

“Sometimes they start a wildfire and sometimes they don’t,” Moon said.

The fire was deep underground and while firefighters kept close watch on it, eventually it burned itself out.

In the past, they have started wildfires like the Coal Seam Fire of 2002 near Glenwood Springs, which burned a couple dozen homes.

“It burned a big area in the Glenwood area and we have had a few in the Harvey gap area where it would raise its ugly head,” Moon said.

It’s why when this latest coal seam fire popped up, the 911 system in the area was flooded with calls.

To try and keep those lines from being tied up, the department posted information about coal seam fires on their Facebook page. Maria Pina with Colorado River Fire Rescue says it didn't take long for the post to gain traction.

“When we posted to our Facebook page, there were people all over the country telling us about the coal seams all over the world burning,” Pina said.

The information reached a lot of interested people who have been looking at close-up pictures of the where the fire broke out of the ground.

“That original post hit 45,000 people and I don’t think we have 45,000 people in the valley — so it was very educational,” Pina said. “People were thankful and it was good to get the word out.”

In places where those coal seam fires have caused wildfires, teams have been able to seal up the area. But the network of fires is large and sealing it all has been difficult.

In the meantime, residents between Rifle and New Castle have embraced their burning history by naming the mountain where a lot of the fire happened as Burning Mountain. There’s also a Burning Mountain Boulevard and a Burning Mountain Festival.