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Front Page » November 29, 2011 » Carbon County News » 1985: Investigation of Wilberg disaster begins
Published 1,068 days ago

1985: Investigation of Wilberg disaster begins


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

The year of 1985 began as 1984 ended....with news about the Wilberg Mine disaster.

A preliminary union investigation into the fire, which took place in December and killed over two dozen people, revealed that contributing causes to the disaster included a two-entry system, an inoperative belt warning system, a telephone system that didn't operate correctly and two blocked escape routes (caused by cave-ins which happened a few days before the actual fire).

At almost the same time the report was being made public, the company was sealing the mine. Late in the month and into February MSHA held hearings on the accident in the local area and by the end of the month had delayed re-entry into the mine indefinitely. But by March teams were back in the mine, reclaiming it. They were placing seals in several places to keep the smoldering fire from erupting again. In April MSHA released its findings concerning the testimony given two months earlier. The agency said that the testimony provided very little clarity into what caused the fire, but did pinpoint where the fire began. The Sun Advocate also reported on April 10 that the Emery County Sheriff's Department was investigating if the fire could have been arson related. By mid-April recovery of the mine had almost come to a halt as heat and gas started to become a problem. Up until that time teams had been able to make good headway, but that came to a snail slow advance.

Throughout the year the teams working in the mine would advance then setbacks would put them on the slow track again, as they strove to make headway to recover the bodies of those who lost their lives. After starts and stops for months by late October the crews were only 200 feet from where the bodies of those who died lay. In November, 25 bodies were recovered and on Dec. 16 the last two deceased miners remains were taken out of the mine.

The College of Eastern Utah announced in late April that they would be asking Price if they could acquire the old Carbon Hospital from the city. The college wanted the building to use for office space and for some instructional space as well. They also said at the time the parking around the building would be of great use, because the new athletic center being built on the east end of campus was taking away a large piece of parking from the school.

In early May the Price City Council voted to give the hospital to the college. The Carbon County Commission also agreed to the plan. The building would be remodeled in the early 1990s to become the Computer-Business Building. It is now known as the Western Instructional Building.

In June a new loadout constructed at the Wildcat siding of the Utah Railway southwest of Helper began operation. The first trains began to be filled with coal from the Tower Resource Mine in Deadman Canyon. The loading facility was built to supply coal to the at the time new Intermountain Power Project near Delta, with plans to supply 10 million tons of coal in the 15 years following 1985. Later that summer another loadout, for the Skyline Mine, that is located at the bottom of Eccles Canyon, started loading trains for the same power station.

In July a statewide power outage made no exception for the local area. The outage happened at the end of the July 4 holiday weekend. The outage in the local area lasted about five hours. The outage caused few problems except in traffic, where many people failed to treat powerless traffic lights as four ways stops as they were supposed to.

The summer in Price brought a spate of vandalism to city property. Damage to facilities at city parks and smashing windows at a city greenhouse just added to other things that had been going on for some time. Most disturbing was vandalism in the Price City Cemetery. Porcelain photos on gravestones (over two dozen of them) were damaged or broken by sticks, rocks and even pellet guns.

Mid-July also brought on some non-human caused destruction at the Carbon County Airport. A wind storm that came up on the night of July 14 wrecked hangers at the airport, even pulling some supports concrete out of the ground. The 70 mph plus winds also damaged a couple of airplanes that were tied down on the tarmac as well.

An oil well fire injured one man critically when it erupted in early August at the Grassy Trail oil field a few miles southwest of Sunnyside Junction. The fire started during a work over of the well (to increase production at an existing well). At the time no official cause for the fire was listed, but the destruction to the rig and nearby support vehicles was extensive, with some a total loss. At the time OSHA was investigating the fire.

Late September brought the dedication of the new athletic center at on the CEU campus. The effort culminated a 20 year effort to get the state to fund such a facility, and since State Sen. Omar Bunnell and State Rep. Mike Dmitrich were so fundamental in getting the money for the facility, the new name for the building became the Bunnell-Dmitrich Athletic Center.

A balloon among many launched from Durrant School with letters aboard asking to finders to report back to the school where they were found, brought fast reaction in October. The balloon that Jenny Hakin, who was eight at the time, had launched was found by a family of Wisconsin farmers only two days after it left the Carbon County areas. It was estimated that the balloon had traveled nearly 1,400 miles in 12-16 hours. The Wisconsin family found it in a tree, where it had been for a couple of days, but they just hadn't gotten around to pulling it down. It apparently had arrived on Thursday, the day after the launch. `

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