The Lost Mountain Fire: Kentucky's Underground Hell

Updated: Oct 2

When you think of Kentucky, usually images of green forests, rolling hills, pastures, open skies, blue lakes, and rivers come to mind. However, for some people in areas of Eastern Kentucky, they may think about chasms of underground fire, toxic vapors, and rust-colored streams. Today, we will learn about the Lost Mountain Fire: Kentucky’s Underground Hell.

Deep underneath Eastern Kentucky’s ‘Lost Mountain’, a fire has been burning for more than 50 years. Toxic gas billows out from underground vents into the air, and surrounding streams have turned orange. The ground is unstable and can completely collapse at any time, trapping anyone who dares to venture into the area to a horrible fate.

Officially known as the “Ruth Mullins fire" - named for the woman who first discovered and reported the fire, as is tradition - it can also be referred to as the Lost Mountain Fire. Several of these coal seam fires can be found close to Hazard, KY in Perry and Breathitt County. Many residents were evacuated and had to permanently relocate to escape the many dangers a fire like this can present. Deadly toxic fumes, contaminated water, and the ground collapsing under their homes are just some of the consequences Mountaintop removal coal mining inflicts upon Kentucky residents.

“"No one seems to know how long it’s been burning, how much coal it has consumed, how it started or the dangers associated with it." [Earth Magazine]

Countless miners have died in the coal mines of Kentucky due to buildup of deadly gases, fires, and collapses. While a collapse is deadly to everyone inside of the mine, fires are hazardous to everyone in the surrounding area and can have detrimental effects on the local communities and ecosystems.