Time to extinguish ‘Old Faithful’

It is still unknown when the Hazelwood mine fire will be reclassified from controlled to safe, as firefighters focus their efforts on extinguishing a 37 year-old fire in the Hazelwood mine’s northern batter.

Latrobe Valley incident controller Bob Barry said while the unit would look at scaling back appliances in the next few days, it was important ‘Old Faithful’, a burning remnant of the 1977 mine fire, was checked over as it had been producing smoke since 9 February.

“It’s been there longstanding on northern batters and mine personnel continually cover that with clay, but every now and again it pops up a little bit of smoke, which has been a concern for the mine for a number or years,” Mr Barry said.

“For some reason it’s seeming to puff up a little bit more smoke since we’ve had the fires in the mine, so we believe it may be receiving an oxygen source from somewhere else.”

Mr Barry said machinery would break open the clay barrier placed over Old Faithful to investigate the scale of what was burning underneath as wind and weather conditions were ideal for the works.

“We’re not expecting there to be a great deal but we won’t know until we get the clay out,” he said.

“We’ll do it in a gradual process and if there’s any problems we’ll close it back up and review our strategy.

“If we can suppress it then let’s dig it out and suppress it once and for all.

“We believe it could be only about six metres deep but again we don’t know until we open it up.”

Mr Barry said there was only a few hot spots to extinguish in the mine, though the floor was still producing heat.

“There is still a lot of heat in the floor in the mine and that’s going to continue to put up a bit of smoke, but GDF Suez have advised they will start to dam some of that and start to flood that area,” he said.