One of the biggest hazards faced by underground miners is the threat of fire, where the walls of the mine are made of a flammable vein of coal and the fire competes for the same air the miners need to survive.
Extensive training keeps mine incidents from becoming mine disasters, and the 50 plus miners visiting Craig this week will perform in competitions designed to find the best of the rescue teams in the Tri-state area.
In 1993 the Deserado Mine near Rangely caught fire and in 1999 the Willow Creek mine in Utah suffered the same fate.
Mine Rescue teams from Twentymile Coal Company responded to calls for assistance in those incidents, and put to use training learned at competitions like the one taking place Tuesday through Thursday at the Craig Middle School football field.
This is the sixteenth annual Colorado Mine Rescue Contest, with locations alternating each year between Craig and Paonia in Delta County.
Dianna Ponikvar-Scott, Twentymile's senior safety representative, said this is valuable training for the miners.
"This is the best practice you can get," she said. "You're even working with the people you would be working next to in a real disaster."
Teams from Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico will compete in the three-day event, which includes simulated rescues, cave-ins and explosions in mine shafts, with judges grading every move made by the rescue teams.
Six-member teams conduct the exercises involving first-aid training and pre-shift and mine rescue contests.
Ponikvar-Scott said mines are required by law to practice rescues at the mine each month, and these contests allow teams to learn from each other.
"The public is welcome to watch the contests," she said. "The mine rescue competition on Wednesday is pretty interesting."
An awards banquet follows the contest Thursday evening at Loudy-Simpson Park, with trophys presented to the top three teams.
Twentymile sends a team to competition in Ohio each year, where 35 teams prove their skills, and another team from the mine will travel to Kentucky in July.
A national competition is held at the end of August in Nashville, Tenn.
The Moffat County High School baseball team is helping with the set up and teardown of the equipment needed for the competitions, and they will be serving lunch to the miners as well as the banquet dinner.
The Colorado Mine Rescue Association supports the team with donations and also rewards two senior scholarships to Moffat and Delta county students.