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May-June 2017

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Mineralogy of the Huron River Shale Fire, Huron County, Ohio

Apioneer arrived at Parachute Creek in Garfield County, Colorado, and found the area appealing enough that he decided to stay. Finding abundant timber nearby, he built a sturdy cabin and constructed his fireplace and chimney out of the local black rock. Soon after completion, he lit a fire, and a short while later the fireplace and chimney both caught fire and burned his new cabin to the ground. Unknowingly, the settler had built the fireplace and chimney out of oil shale.

This story was told to one of us (WRS) in the 1970s by an “old-timer” living in Garfield County. It came to mind while he was descending through a plume of exhaust gases on a visit to the Huron River shale fire in Ohio forty years later.

Huron County, in north-central Ohio (fig. 2), is perhaps not a place one would expect to find an oil shale fire. However, a surface outcrop of Late Devonian Ohio Shale located on the Huron River caught fire in September 2009 and burned until March 2011. Many of the minerals that formed from the gasses of the fire are similar to those from other oil shale fires, coal mine fires, and volcanic vents, but they are quite unusual for Ohio. 


Dr. R. Peter Richards is a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals and an avid mineral collector with special interests in crystal morphology, twinning, and epitaxy.

William Shewfelt enjoys collecting Ohio minerals and was the first to discover that the shale fire was producing minerals.

Dr. Ernest H. Carlson is best known as the author of Ohio Geological Survey Bulletin 69, Minerals of Ohio.

Dr. Anthony R. Kampf is a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals and is curator emeritus at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His research focuses on the characterization of new minerals.

Dr. Barbara P. Nash is a professor of geology and geophysics and director of the Electron Microprobe Laboratory at the University of Utah.

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