NORTON -- Firefighters snuffed a blaze involving a coal conveyor belt system in Wise County early Tuesday near Norton.
Known by locals as 'The Blue Tube" and located a few miles just east of Norton, the conveyor system brings coal and/or rocky materials down Tacoma Mountain, is elevated above U.S. Route 58 where it crosses that four lane highway, to a coal loadout facility near a Norfolk Southern rail line at the bottom of the mountain. The cylindrical covering, painted blue, lends its local name.
The fire was confined to the very bottom of the 'tube,' below the hillside of U.S. Route 58 at the loadout and preparation facility, according to Wise County Sheriff Ronnie Oakes and others.
Oakes said the county's 911 Dispatch received a call at 2:09 a.m. Tuesday and firefighters were dispatched from the Norton, Coeburn and Wise Volunteer Fire Departments.
The conveyor/prep plant/loadout facility is operated by A&G Coal Co. with offices in Wise. An A&G spokesman referred inquiries to the Justice Corp. in Roanoke and the Times-News awaiting a response.
Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy spokesman Mike Abbott said the state agency has no jurisdiction over the 'tube' and efforts to contact the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) that does have jurisdiction were stymied by the current government shutdown.
Abbott said under state law coal preparation facilities like the 'tube' or associated facilities, unless directly connected to a coal mining operation, are the responsibility of federal oversight agencies, specifically MSHA.
There were no injuries reported from the incident and traffic was operating normally along U.S. Route 58 Tuesday morning.