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Southern Ute Indian Tribe of Colorado

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The tribe has given up on a $1 million effort to extinguish five underground coal fires. "We were out there fighting a force of nature and it just didn't seem like a fight we would win,'' said Bob Zahradnik, who managed the effort. Initially it was believed five fires burned within a 12-mile radius southeast of Marvel, said Dick Baughman, a tribal geologist. The largest was believed to be about one-third of a mile long and 300 yards wide, with more than 20 heat vents emitting carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide gases. But when that fire took almost half of the budgeted crack sealer, engineers realized the fires were much bigger than imagined. Baughman said he believes the largest fire is interconnected with at least one other, and may cover an area almost one mile long and about 1/4 mile wide. He said he thinks the fire is constantly moving, depending on available ventilation. The fires may have burned out more than 100 underground cavities some big enough to hold several buses, he said. To put out the fires, engineers fill burned-out cavities and vents with a nontoxic, biodegradable solution in regular concrete grout.

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