UPDATE Utah Mine Lays Off 319 After Fire

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Utah Mine Lays Off 319 After Fire

HELPER, Utah (AP) -- Hundreds of coal miners have been laid off from their jobs at the Willow Creek Mine less than a week after a fire killed two miners and injured eight others.

The layoffs, which became effective Saturday, affect 237 hourly workers and 82 salaried employees out of a total work force of 350. The company will continue health benefits for the 319 workers.

''It's going to be rough, very rough,'' said Michael Milovich, a Carbon County commissioner and president and chief executive officer of the Carbon Credit Union.

The mine has been closed and sealed off since the July 31 accident. Officials are not sure whether the fire in the mine in central Utah is still burning.

A plan to fill part of the mine with water will take eight to 10 days to complete, company spokesman Mike Dmitrich said Wednesday. The cause of the accident remains unclear, as does a timetable for the mine's reopening.

Mining jobs are some of the best paying positions in the area, with an average miner earning $58,000 in 1999. In comparison, the average wage in Carbon County last year was $25,000.

Even before the layoff announcement, Willow Creek workers had started seeking unemployment insurance information. Others throughout Utah's mining communities also prepared for an economic hit.

''Hopefully this is just a temporary thing,'' Milovich said. ''If it becomes permanent, it will have a major impact.''

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), August 10, 2000

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