Silver Valley steadfast in support for Lucky Friday Mine

"The community revolves around the Lucky Friday Mine. It's always been a mining community and I think it always will be."

MULLAN, Idaho - While the Lucky Friday Mine has been hit by a series of tragic incidents this year, the community remains unwavering in its support of the mine and its important role in the Silver Valley.

The people in the Silver Valley are no strangers to coping with tragic accidents, and Wednesday night's rock burst was the third incident this year that involved miners being injured.

"We were just really pleased that obviously that no one was seriously injured or killed," Mullan resident Mike Dotson said.

The men who were injured Wednesday were in the process of installing steel fencing and collars intended to stabilize the roof of a tunnel that is the primary route Hecla uses to move material in and out of the production part of the mine. Until that thoroughfare can be cleared and properly supported operations at the Lucky Friday have been shut down.

When miners hop on the hoist and are lowered into the Lucky Friday they drop more than a mile below the surface but are still a long way from where they actually work. That's because Hecla is now actually going after precious metals about a mile north of the silver shaft and travel along a drift at the 5900 foot level to get there. It's inside that horizontal tunnel, used for hauling ore, that the rock burst happened.

"There was a rock burst that occurred and those individuals were injured in that rock burst," Hecla President and CEO Phil Baker said Wednesday night.

It was the second rock burst in the main line in less than a month, although no one was in the mine during the November 16 incident. Workers were in the process of shoring up the drift with fencing and collars when the roof collapsed on them.

"The work these guys were doing was to make that area of the mine safer in case an incident of this sort might happen and it just happened to occur when they were in the process of doing that construction," Baker said.

The construction did not involve blasting and may have been triggered by seismic activity.

Silver is often deposited along fault lines and this rock burst happened where the drift crosses an area known as the 30 vein.

"It's just that place in the mine we are actually going through a vein and when you are in that vein area we certainly had the identified that you had the potential for something to occur there," Baker said.

Wednesday night's incident is the third to shut down the mine so far this year, and as the Lucky Friday is growing and going deeper, Hecla officials say they need to know why they're having so many problems.

"While they are unrelated, we will look at each one and figure out what the causes are and look to improve how we operate and prevent these sorts of hazards," Baker said.

The Mine Safety Health Administration is also investigating this rock burst and may find Lucky Friday managers were trying to do the right thing when something bad happened Wednesday night.

While three miners continue their recuperation and the mine remains shut down Thursday, it's seen as nothing more than a pause in progress. Many residents see the historic role mining has played in the Silver Valley, a role that continues today.

"They are a huge community partner they provide all types of assistance and employment opportunities," Former Shoshone County Sheriff Chuck Reynalds said.

Approximately 375 people work at the Lucky Friday Mine - 275 mine employees and 100 contractors - but more than jobs, Mike Dotson appreciates Hecla's philanthropy toward education and community programs in the area.

"Lucky Friday's philanthropy is not just for Mullan. They are heavily involved in Kellogg, Wallace, through the valley," Dotson said.

There's no denying mining is a risky business, but some said that mining has risks just as other career fields, like construction, firefighting and law enforcement carry a certain amount of risk, and in the end, the Silver Valley will remain a mining community for many years to come.

"The community revolves around the Lucky Friday Mine. It's always been a mining community and I think it always will be," Reynalds said.

KXLY4's Jeff Humphrey contributed to this report