|GOODWIN VIDEO & NEW MEDIA|
Devil's Oven: The fire in the Heart of
the Little Cities of Black Diamonds
- A Video Documentary
About the Fire
New Straitsville takes its place in history as one of the origins of a national coal miners union, but not before local miners took their frustrations out on the very source of their income, by setting fire to the mines and causing irreparable damage to the mines and surrounding area.
In 1884, Miners from New Straitsville, Ohio, working the Middle Kittanning Coal Seam, set fire to the mine during a labor dispute. A massive effort by the Federal government to extinguish the fire in the 1930s proved futile.
More than one hundred years later, the fire continues to burn. An estimated 200 square miles of underground mineral deposits have been destroyed. Devil’s Oven is described as a “long simmering legacy of the state’s industrial past, an environmental nightmare that won’t go away.”(Sloat, “118 years Later, ‘Devil’s Oven’ Burns On” Plain Dealer, 05/12/03)
The fire has moved away from New Straitsville and is now spreading under Ohio’s 233,000 acre Wayne National Forest.
During the Depression, the fire was visible in the surrounding hillsides.
There was smoke all over this valley, says local resident Paul Nutter, "...you could smell the sulphur everywhere... and it was a smell that was part of the town."
Tourists began to drive into the area having heard or read about the fire. Locals set up shop and conducted mine fire tours, charging admission and feuding with each other for the business.
Others delighted sightseers by frying eggs on the hot ground, and dipping for boiling water in their well to make tea and coffee.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA), the depression-era government jobs program tried to put out the fire, and almost succeeded, but eventually the task proved too difficult, and the fire continued to burn.
"It will burn as long as it gets oxygen," says Nutter, "and it's burning yet today."