A flood in the White Ash Mine, located in Colorado, killed ten men. Though not the worst mining disaster in Colorado history, the White Ash Mine disaster is remembered for a mysterious fire that thwarted an attempt to rescue the drowned miners.

On September 9, 1889, at about four o’clock in the afternoon ten men drowned in the White Ash Mine, a coal mine near Golden, Colorado. An engineer, Charles Hoagland, was the first to discover that something had happened. He had attempted to send down the elevator, but it wouldn’t go to the bottom, and then it wouldn’t rise. Hoagland attempted to contact the cage man who was at the bottom of the mine, but he did not respond. Hoagland phoned the foreman, Evan Jones. When Jones descended into the mine, he heard the roaring of water. Realizing the mine was flooding, he informed the general manager and gathered other men in an attempt to rescue the men trapped below. However, they were only able to travel about 300 feet down before they were hit with bad air and retreated. Around midnight, the mine inspector, John McNeil, and the general manager, Paul Lanious, descended into the mine.

They found out the mine, which was about 780 feet deep, was filled with CO2. The water had reached 140 feet high and was scalding hot at about 115 degrees Fahrenheit. At about 280 feet down, they felt a strong heat coming out of the walls; when they examined the area, they found that a portion of this level was on fire. The fire was getting closer to the shaft timbers, making it impossible to isolate the fire and put it out. McNeil and Lanious made it about 400 feet down before the gas became too much, forcing them to ascend.

As a result of the fire, the gas, and the height of the water, officials concluded the men could not have survived. With the mine considered too dangerous, officials suspended extraction efforts and instead sealed off the shaft. Their decision entombed the men in the mine.

In the aftermath, people wondered that had caused the disaster. Investigation revealed the most likely culprit was the Loveland Mine, attached to the White Ash Mine through coal veins. About ten years before the White Ash Mine flood and fire, the Loveland Mine had itself shut down due to flooding. Over the years, the underground

The biggest question that everyone had was what caused the disaster. The culprit was found to be the Loveland Mine which was attached to the White Ash Mine through coal veins. The Loveland Mine had been closed about ten years before the disaster on account of flooding. While White Ash passed inspections, showing no signs of potential flooding, over the years the coal walls separating Loveland and White Ash degraded. When they finally broke down, the floodwaters still inside Loveland poured into White Ash.

While the precise reasons the coals walls degraded is not known for certain, most people believe an underground fire had smoldered inside Loveland and slowly ate away at the coal separating the two mines. In fact, McNeil had discovered a smoldering fire between the walls a few years earlier, though he had it sealed up. However, there may have been a second fire that went unnoticed. This unchecked fire made the walls crumble, allowing the Loveland Mine’s water to drain into the White Ash.


The mine and her miners
The mine and her miners Miners inside the White Ash Mine in 1892. Source: “Miners in Little White Ash Mine.” Courtesy of the Golden History Museum and Park. https://goldenhistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/AC9FB16A-6924-4460-82DC-797229271887.
White Ash Mine
White Ash Mine This is a landscape view of the White Ash Mine showing its various buildings and facilities. Source: Courtesy of Jefferson County, Colorado. https://www.jeffco.us/DocumentCenter/View/11193/white-as6h-coal-mine?bidId=.
Memorializing the White Ash Mine Disaster
Memorializing the White Ash Mine Disaster This memorial plaque sits at the west of Golden’s Twelfth Street and is dedicated to the ten men who drowned in the disaster. Four of the men’s names—William Collins, John Collins, Henry Huesman, and David Llyod—are accompanied by symbols of the Odd Fellows Lodge, a service and fraternity organization. Source: “White Ash Mine Marker.” Courtesy of the Golden History Museum and Park. https://goldenhistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/83A36513-4CB1-4A80-B045-108768816336.
The marker today
The marker today The White Ash Mine Disaster marker as photographed in 2014. Source: White Ash Marker.” Georgialh (pseud.), April 5, 2014. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Ash_Marker.JPG. Creator: Georgialh (pseud.)



Megan Wagner, Northern Arizona University, “White Ash Mine Disaster,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/537.