DOLORES, Colo. (CBS4) — A band of coal believed to have been ignited by a wildfire last summer was discovered by rangers recently when small flames emerged from a patch of hillside fissures. It is called the Coal Seam Fire.

U. S. Forest Service personnel encountered smoldering ground cover Oct. 9 in the McPhee Park area about 10 miles northeast of Dolores. No above-surface points of ignition were apparently evident.

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(credit: Jim Mimiaga/Cortez Journal)

“A fire crew put out the surface fire in a little more than one day,” Patrick Seekins, fire management officer for the Dolores Ranger District, told the Cortez Journal. “But it continues to smolder and glow below ground.”

(credit: Jim Mimiaga/Cortez Journal)

The red-hot deposit of coal is believed to have been started by the Plateau Fire of 2018.

“The seam is extremely hot,” the Forest Service stated in a press release Friday, “and will continue to burn for an indefinite period of time producing minimal amounts of smoke and a strong odor of creosote that will be noticeable. The ground in and around the coal seam is extremely unstable and the area should be avoided.”

(credit: Jim Mimiaga/Cortez Journal)

The area of the burning coal seam is about 30 yards long and 10 yards wide on an unstable 30-degree slope, according to the Cortez Journal. Occasional puffs of smoke accompanied the smell of burning coal. Cattle graze in this general area and hunters in trucks pass through on a nearby road.

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(credit: Jim Mimiaga/Cortez Journal)

Warning signs were placed along roadsides.

(credit: Jim Mimiaga/Cortez Journal)

Rangers cleared further fuel from around the fissures to thwart further surface ignition, but intend to monitor the area in the meantime.

A team of experts will attempt to determine the size of the underground coal seam – and consequently the length of time it will burn – sometime next year.

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