Hwange residents living in fear on underground coal fires

Fear has gripped residents in Hwange after it emerged that the raging underground seam coal fires that are breaking through road infrastructure could spread to residential areas.

The development comes as an underground coal fire recently broke through a tarred road that links No. 2 (Madumabisa village) and No. 3 (Makwika village) Hwange Colliery Company concessions areas.

It is understood that due to the speed at which the underground coal fires were progressing authorities would be forced to move the detour further away from the road. 

The area at which the underground coal fires are raging is separated by a road and railway line on whose side is a school, graveyard and residential area.  

Residents who spoke to CITE expressed concern over the development arguing that it was a ticking time bomb that could spell disaster for the mining town.

“We are now living in fear of these underground coal fires which are looming even in roads as what recently occurred. This is a ticking time bomb which if addressed soon might be disasterous for us as residents. There seem to be an underground coal fire lake which continues to raging closer to human settlement. Something should be done urgently such as barricading the area while a permanent solution is being sought, ” said one resident who identified himself only as Ndlovu.¬†

Another resident who refused to be named blamed Hwange Colliery company for poor rehabilitation of mined out areas. 

“These raging underground coal fires that are finding their way to the surface are signs of poor mining and rehabilitation standards by Colliery. Had the company had foresight of such things through its engineers I’m sure necessary steps could have been undertaken to address this. We are now living in fear of the ground collapsing under our feet.”

Greater Whange ResidentsTrust coordinator, Fidelis Chima said they would engage the Colliery over the issue describing it as a hazard to human life.

“Hwange Colliery Company should ensure that they assist the public with reports of these underground fires as it stands there are fears that Makwika and Madumabisa compounds will be swallowed by these underground fires. We will definitely engage them and we still insist that we need to embrace clean energy as there are less if zero environmental hazards,” he said.

A former employee said the company had tried to use various methods such as smothering, covering mined out areas using overburden and top soil to starve coal of oxygen. 

“This is not a new development at all. After working the area the company filled up the mined out of area with overburden and top soil in an effort to suppress oxygen that is a vital ingredient for combustion. Other methods such as smothering have also been used but small cracks caused by blasting allow oxygen to enter leading to what we are experiencing today. These fires are unpredictable and difficult to contain or extinguish this is why we see roads being closed or detoured.”

It is understood that the company dispatched a team of engineers to assess the situation while an official from the District Development Coordinator’s office visited the site for appraisals. 

Efforts to get a comment from the company’s corporate affairs manager, Dr Beauty Mutombe were fruitless however, an official who spoke on condition of anonymity said motorists and residents had been advised to use the alternative route that was created following the closure of part of the affected road.

“It is important that residents and motorists use the detour that has always been there to avoid any problems. Those using shortcuts while on foot should avoid taking such risks and these underground coal fires are spontaneous and can appear from anywhere.”

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