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Idaho State News

North Idaho Mining Incident Remembered 50 Years Later as ‘The Day That Changed the Mining Industry’

The Mine Safety and Health Administration on May 2 marked the 50th anniversary of the Sunshine Mine Disaster, “the day that changed the mining industry forever.”

On Tuesday, May 2, 1972, at about 11:40 a.m., a fire broke out at the Sunshine Mine in Kellogg, Idaho. Smoke and carbon monoxide quickly filled the area in which the majority of the 173 miners were working. At 12:03 p.m., an evacuation was ordered after mine managers were unable to pinpoint the location of the fire. Ninety-one men perished due to carbon monoxide exposure, 80 escaped, and only two were rescued after a week of being entombed about 5,200 feet underground.

At that point in history, the Sunshine Mine fire was the largest disaster in the hard-rock mining industry since the 1917 mine fire at the Speculator Mine in Montana. The Sunshine fire exposed weaknesses in the administrative setup of the safety and health program for metal and nonmetal miners and, as a result, served as the catalyst for the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The Mine Act continues to govern MSHA activities, and the number of mining fatalities has substantially decreased since the act went into effect.

“Today we remember and honor the miners who lost their lives in this tragic event, and we remain committed to our mission to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and promote safe and healthy workplaces for the industry’s greatest resource – miners,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson.

“The deaths of 91 miners in the Sunshine Mine Disaster was a catalyst for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, whose provisions we at MSHA carry out every day to ensure miners can go home safe and healthy to their families,” said Patricia Silvey, MSHA deputy assistant secretary. “On a personal note, I was honored to work with a member of the then – Bureau of Mines rescue team who was the first rescuer the two surviving miners saw when they emerged from the Sunshine Mine.”