The barren hillsides give a hint of the inferno underfoot. White smoke billows from cracks in the earth, venting a sulfurous rotten smell into the air. The rocky ground is hot to the touch, and heat penetrates the soles of shoes.
Beneath some rocks, an eerie red glow betrays an unseen hell: the epicenter of a severe underground coal fire.
“Don’t stay too long,” warned Ma Ping , a retired. “The gases are poisonous.”
Another miner tugs on the sleeve of a visitor.
“You can cook a potato here,” said Zhou Ningsheng, his face still black from a just-finished shift, as he pointed to a vent in the earth. “You can see with your own eyes.”
China has the worst underground coal fires of any country on Earth. The fires destroy as much as 20 million tons of coal annually, nearly the equivalent of Germany’s entire annual production. The costs go beyond the waste of a valuable fuel, however.
Scientists blame uncontrolled coal fires as a significant source of global warming. Unnoticed by most people, the coal fires can burn for years — even decades and longer — seeping carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that warm the atmosphere., which lead to
“Coal fires are a disaster for all of humanity. And it’s only due to global warming that people are finally beginning to pay attention,” said Guan Haiyan, a coal fire expert at Shenhua Remote Sensing and Geo-engineering Co.
By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers
Cyclists passes through thick pollution from a factory in Yutian, China.(AFP/File/Peter Parks)