Butte, MT Speculator Mine Fire Disaster, June 1917



One Hundred and Fifty Men Dead and No Hope for 200 More.


Miners in Upper Levels Escape and Form Rescue Parties -- Widespread Call.

Butte, Mont., June 9. -- With thirty-five known dead and 167 men missing as the result of a fire which broke out in the Speculator copper mine last night, Butte wrestled today with the worst mining disaster in its history. The fire broke out in the lower levels of the mine late last night, starting from a broken power cable that carried electricity to the underground pumps. Lower levels of the mine quickly filled with smoke and gas. There were 415 men on the night shift. Of these 213 escaped through levels connecting with other mines. The gas spread to the Diamond mine and took a further toll of life in that property. Helmet men, mine rescue crews and safety first squads from all the mines in Butte undertook to penetrate the gas-filled workings of the Speculator, the Diamond and High Ore mines, in the hope of finding the larger body of miners for whom hope of rescue was not given up today. Officials said that if the 167 missing miners are not found to have made their way to the High Ore mine workings, they are doomed.

Early Morning Reports.
Butte, Mont., June 9. -- One hundred and fifty men are reported dead and no hope is held out for the recovery of 200 others trapped underground by a fire in the Speculator mine, near here, early today. Out of 425 men in the mine at the time the fire broke out, more than two-thirds are unaccounted for. Twelve bodies have been recovered.
The fire, which started on the 2400-foot level, communicated quickly to other levels, cutting off all escape from men on lower levels. Dense smoke, which poured from the shaft in great clouds, retarded rescue work. Miners from adjoining properties, ordered up from underground as a precaution, went to work as rescuing gangs, aiding national guardsmen who had been called to the scene. Because of the smoke and the danger they were able to do little until the arrival of safety first cars from Red Lodge and Colorado Springs, which were ordered upon the outbreak of the fire.
Warning of their danger came in time to permit men on the upper levels to escape. They immediately formed rescue parties and attempted to go down the shaft to the men on lower levels, who are, it is thought entombed. Their efforts were fruitless and little could be done until the arrival of the bureau of mines safety first cars, which carry gas and smoke proof helmets.
213 Men Accounted For.
One hour after the outbreak of the fire, L. D. FRINK, superintendent; M. B. CONNORS, foreman; N. D. BRAWLEY, general manager of the Granite shaft, owned by the North Butte company, declared they could account for 213 oout of 415 men who were in the shaft when the fire started.
JOHN COFFEMETTEN and JOHN BOYCE, who were the first two men to be taken from the shaft alive, told a thrilling tale of sustaining their lives by cutting the air hose and sucking the air by turns until the rescue party arrived. They were on the 700-foot level at the outbreak of the fire.
According to miners who escaped from the shaft the fire started from flames of a carbide lamp. The men were ordered to report to the time-keeper as they emerged from the mine; 211 men had so reported, soon after the rescue work started, out of the 415 who went down in the night shift.
Saw 48 Men Perish.
Two men who were working on the 700-foot level reported that forty-eight had perished on the level where they worked, they alone being saved.
All ambulances in Butte and all physicians in the city were summoned to the scene.
The Speculator is a tramway mine and runs through Granite mountain. Men equipped with safety first helmets to withstand the effects of smoke and fumes entered the Speculator shaft first, but were compelled to retire soon after.

Rescue Cars Called.
Pittsburg, June 9. -- Rescue car No. 5, which has been at Billings, Mont., has been called to the scene, as has car No. 7, which is in Colorado. The mining interests at Butte are credited with having one of the best rescue organizations in the country and it, with the assistance of the trained crews from the federal cars, are relied upon to hurry the work of rescue at the mine.
A statement by officials of the North Butte company issued just before noon today gives thirty-six known dead as a result of the Speculator mine fire, 167 missing and 212 known to have been saved. This list of missing now includes only such men as are believed yet to be in the mine.

The Ogden Standard Utah 1917-06-09