2006-2011: Crandall Canyon mine disaster, Dino-Mine park success
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. The article is being written from front page stories that appeared during each year in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
The period of years between 2006 and 2011 were full of news and events that happened in and around Carbon County.
Probably the biggest story in 2006 was something that happened outside the county, but showed just how reliant the area is on Highway 6. On Aug. 10 traffic along U.S. Highway 6 came to an abrupt stop at 1:54 p.m. when a truck carrying 35,000 pounds of explosives overturned and detonated in the Red Narrows area of Spanish Fork Canyon.
Despite the fact that this event did not take place in Carbon County the implications of the accident were immediate. Since the explosion left a crater in the road 35 feet deep and 75 feet wide, truck stops in Carbon County began to back up with vehicles almost immediately. Alternative routes through Scofield, Huntington Canyon and Indian Canyon became congested. The blast destroyed the road and both lanes of traffic of the highway near milepost 191, located approximately four miles east of the junction with U.S. Highway 89. In addition, the explosion caused rail lines parallel to the highway to shift.
The truck that exploded apparently left Ensign-Bickford Company at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon and was on its way to Oklahoma. The driver was transported to University of Utah Hospital. Other injuries were reported and victims were transported to various hospitals in the area. Amazingly no one was killed in the blast despite the fact the canyon was backed up with summer vacation traffic after the truck turned over. Six victims with minor injuries were taken to Castleview Hospital and later released. The explosion left a 30 foot deep crater that needed to be filled before traffic could resume. Repairing the road took about 350 loads in dump trucks carrying 4,500 tons of material. It took about 36 hours to get traffic moving again, which was a miracle, considering it had been estimated that it would take at least four days to repair at the beginning of the project.
Dino Mine Park
In a huge community effort people from all walks of life from eastern Utah helped in the financing and construction of the Dino-Mine Adventure Park located in northeast Price. The event had been planned for months, and in the space of one week in September 2006, the park went from a diagram laid out on the ground to a fully functional super playground because over 3,300 volunteers put time in at the project for 16 hour days to get it done.
Only a dream of a few people less than a year before, the committee that was formed to build the park raised near $250,000 to buy the materials, do the engineering and then were able to muster the help to build it.
If there was a single story that dominated 2007, and actually the entire five year period, it was the Crandall Canyon Disaster. The whole thing started in the early morning hours of Aug. 6, 2007 when a huge bounce occurred at the Crandall Canyon mine near Huntington. The management of Crandall Canyon claimed the bump was an earthquake, while scientists at the University of Utah indicated that the disturbance was caused by the mine collapsing. Trapped inside the mine were six local miners; Don Erickson of Helper, Manuel Sanchez of Price, Kerry Allred of Cleveland, Jose Luis Hernandez, of Huntington, Juan Carlos Payan of Huntington and Brandon Phillips of Orangeville.
At first, there was hope that the miners would be rescued from the mine as crews moved in to drill holes into the areas where officials thought the men might be. Rescue teams scrambled to clear the debris from the portal in an attempt to reach the trapped miners through the existing tunnel system.
But on Aug. 16, three rescue workers were killed when a tunnel crews were clearing exploded from the sides. The collapse was caused by the pressure from rock above the shaft. The incident halted the rescue efforts within the mine as the area mourned the loss of MSHA roof control specialist Gary Jensen and Castle Country coal miners Brandon Kimber and Dale Black.
After that, all hopes were pinned on the holes being bored from the surface into the mine. But with each drill completion, hope went downhill as rescuers found mine tunnels via a portable camera filled with debris and no sign of life. Drilling continued up through the first part of September and a search robot was sent down one of the holes to look for the miners, but failed to find anything. The original six miners' bodies were never recovered and the ramifications concerning the situation have gone on up through the present time. The next year two memorials were dedicated to the lost miners; one at the site of the mine, the other in Huntington at a park just off the road on the way to the Huntington Canyon where the now closed Crandall Mine is located.
That same summer a severe thunderstorm produced numerous lightning strikes, with one hitting an area in Mathis Canyon near Willow Creek. This created a blaze that turned into the number one priority wildfire in the nation, in a year when wildfires around the west popped up like popcorn in a hot buttery pan.
The wildfire threatened coal mining operations in the Bookcliffs and numerous federal resources were committed to fight the blaze. At one point, 600 firefighters and support personnel were on the scene and the blaze was extinguished within a few days.
USU-CEU merger talk
While it had been talked about in many ways before 2008 brought more discussion of the serious kind, of the College of Eastern Utah merging with Utah State University.
A meeting in the fall of 2007 with some college personnel and some Utah State officials began a series of events that would eventually lead to some initial legislation that was defeated, but set the ball rolling in 2008.
In February of that year an impromptu meeting with college officials and others began with some animosity since not everyone was privy to the first meeting. However as the year progressed the rumors started to have real substance.
The Utah State Board of Regents did a study in 2009 and with the cooperation of both schools soon the realization came that a merger was the only way the state had to save the campus in Price and Blanding. In July of 2010 the long running rumor became reality.
The College of Eastern Utah was gone, replaced by USU Eastern, although it took some time for that name to finally be arrived at and to catch on.
Fire destroys bridge
One of the most unique railroad bridges in the United States burned beyond use on the morning of Aug. 1, 2008. The bridge, which still stands as a skeleton of itself today, crosses Gordon Creek and carries tracks to the now shut down mines near Hiawatha. It was built sometime between 1913 and 1917 and stood a monument to engineering.
Reports about the fire came into Carbon County dispatch around 1:30 a.m. By the time officials arrived it lit the area up and was largely engulfed by flames. A state fire marshal investigator said there was no other possible ignition source except arson. He said that the fire started in the middle tower and that it was obvious an accelerant was used to get the fire going. That morning a BLM helicopter began dumping water on the bridge in an effort to put the fire out. As officials watched the blaze large chunks of ties fell into the gorge starting small fires below that were quickly handled fire crews below.
CEU wins SWAC
In 2010 more sports accolades came to the area as the College of Eastern Utah men's basketball team first won the Scenic West Athletic Conference regular and tournament basketball championship. Then the team came in third at the National Junior College Athletic Association national championships in Hutchison, Kan. in March.
It was the first time the college had gone that far in the national tournament since 1966 when the school also finished third. It was a heady time for the schools basketball program, but within the next two years things would become first, tragic and then sad.
In the fall of 2011, USU Eastern coach Brad Barton was found dead in his apartment, apparently from complications revolving around a diabetic condition. Then only a short time later, the college was stripped of most of the wins it had in the 2010-2011 season because of a foreign player that was deemed ineligible after an investigation into his playing history in Russia. The loss of the wins did not affect the championship season, because that took place before the player came to the college.
'No Graves Unadorned"
The year of 2011 could also be noted for the strong showing by local volunteers from both Carbon and Emery counties who spent a week before Memorial Day by placing flowers on every grave in the area. The project had been started in 2010 by the Sun Advocate and was successful in Carbon alone, but in its second year it grew in strength. The "No Graves Unadorned" project brought new life to the spirit of a holiday that in recent years had been relegated to a three day getaway for campers and travelers. The project is considered to be a one-of-a-kind in the United States, and numerous communities are presently trying to emulate its success.
This article ends a series that have been written over the last year and half about the 120 years of the Sun Advocate's history. All in all, the project has produced over 140 articles starting with the events surrounding the founding of the Eastern Utah Telegraph in 1891 and now ending with 2011.
What will the next 120 years bring in terms of stories and events?
Keep following the Sun Advocate to find out.