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Burngrange - West Calder, Midlothian. 10th January, 1947 - Page 4

An Incident Attended By Jimmy Simpson - Coatbridge Mines Rescue Station
Nos.1 and 2 (Oil Shale) Mine - 15 Died in This Tradgedy - The Inquiry - Emails

Urgent calls for assistance were sent to the National Fire Service and the Mines Rescue Station. The N.F.S. received the call at 9.25 p.m. and an officer and four men arrived at 9.40 p.m., after covering the eight miles from the Fire Station with a mobile fire engine and two Proto one-hour self-contained breathing sets. The Mines Rescue Superintendent at Edinburgh received the call at 9.20 p.m. and he and has assistants arrived at the colliery in the Mines Rescue Car at 10.30 p.m. when the trained men at the colliery were waiting for them.

Although the N.F.S. was never intended for fire-fighting underground in mines, the team volunteered at once for the duty. Two members of the team donned the Proto apparatus and underground they were met by Brown, who pleaded for one of the Proto apparatus so that he and another trained member of the Burngrange Mines Rescue Team, J. McArthur, could make another attempt to get into the workings beyond the No.3 Dook. After handing over their apparatus the N.F.S. men were taken down the No.14 Level where they tackled the fire with portable fire extinguishers. A far more serious fire had been found in the heading beyond the No.2 Dook and was tackled by trained rescue men. After making the necessary arrangements to get water to the inbye workings and getting a portable pump and hose down the mine the N.F.S. men fought the fire under the charge of N.S.S. Superintendent Muir. Mine officials and trained rescue men under Superintendent Davidson were in attendance all the time to guide them and to keep a watch on the conditions in the roadways and of the atmosphere.

The smaller fires were kept under control but the fighting of the larger fires was a long, arduous and difficult operation. Until it could be brought under control, rescue operations beyond were impossible. At one time 600 gallons of water per minute were played on the fire.

Brown and McArthur, with the Proto apparatus had made an unsuccessful attempt to reach the trapped men but they were able to give details of the situation when the full rescue brigade arrived. They went into action under the direction of Davidson and the first team which was designated ‘Oils No.5 Brigade’ went down and were ready for action at 10.30 p.m. along with the assistant superintendent R. McIntosh and John Caldwell, the General Manager of the Mines. Instructions were left for the ‘Oils No.4 Brigade’ to dress and follow on. Underground, a fresh air base was set up at McIntyre’s Dook where the stretchers and revivers were left under the care of Davidson and McIntyre.

At 11.15 p.m., under the captaincy of the indefatigable overman, Brown, the Oils
No.5 Brigade, wearing goggles and using a lifeline, set off with instructions to explore No.10 Level and try to make contact with the trapped men. Sweating profusely, they returned at 11.30 p.m. with a report that the temperature was very high and the smoke so dense they could not see each other’s lights but they insisted on trying again.

The fresh air base was moved 172 yards further on and the team set off again. When they returned they reported that they had reached a point near No.3 Dook where they found a large fall of stone and bad roof conditions. They had also heard movement of the roof weighting but could not see because of the thick smoke. The brigade then attempted to reach the men by way of the No.11 Level but they found this was impossible because a serious fire was burning at the junction of the first heading beyond No.2 Dook. Following the discovery of the fire and the report on the atmospheric conditions by the brigade it was clear to all that there was no hope for the trapped men until this fire was under control. All efforts were then concentrated on getting the maximum fire fighting resources into action. It was decided that The N.F.S. men could do the work without breathing apparatus so long as they were accompanied by a trained mines brigade rescue man with oil flame safety lamp and canaries.

The work of fighting the fire continued without interruption for four days when on the night of 13/14th. January that it was considered practicable to send a team beyond the fire. On this night Oils No.2 Brigade went in and came back with the report that they had found the bodies of eight men lying in the No.3 Dook. By this time the atmosphere was much clearer and the temperature a little above normal. After this the district was quickly explored and all the bodies located and recovered. All the bodies with the exception of G. Easton were found in the No.3 Dook and there was evidence that Easton attempted to brattice off the face of No.13 Level where his body was found, in an attempt to keep the noxious atmosphere from him. No one could say if they were at their working places at the time of the explosion.

Memorial BurngrangeThose who died were-

Henry Cowie aged 36 years, miner’s drawer,
David Carroll aged 36 years miner’s drawer,
William Carrol aged 31 years, miner’s drawer,
George Easton aged 53 years, oncost worker,
John Fairley aged 20 years, miner’s drawer,
William Findlay aged 56 years, oncost worker,
Anthony Gaughan aged 45 years, miner,
William Greenock aged 51 years, miner,
Thomas Heggie aged 27 years, miner,
John Lightbody aged 41 years, miner,
John McGarty aged 30 years, miner’s drawer,
James McCauley aged 59 years, miner,
David Muir aged 25 years, miner’s drawer,
Samuel Pake aged 24 years, miner’s drawer,
William Ritchie aged 39 years, miner.

Poem by Margaret Foster 


In Mem