The Sunshine Mine near Kellogg, ID, was the nation's premier silver producer for many years. In 1972, the mine was nearly 6,000 feet deep, contained hundreds of miles of worked-out areas, and employed nearly 500 people. Because of its depth and the type of host rock for the silver (unburnable quartzite), the general thinking of the day was that fires in mines such as the Sunshine were impossible, because "hard-rock mines don't burn." What wasn't really considered was that timber supports, foam insulation, and mining equipment do burn and that the carbon monoxide gas produced by burning is far more deadly than fire itself. Thus, no one was prepared when, on May 2, 1972, a fire of unknown origin broke out below the 3100 level of the mine. Before long, 173 miners on the day shift were trapped by thick, black smoke. By the time the fire was out, 91 miners had died, and the Sunshine Mine Fire became known as one of the worst mine disasters of the 20th century. It became the catalyst for passage of the Metal/Nonmetal Health and Safety Act of 1977, which applied the same federal safety standards to hard-rock mines as those regulating coal. Mandated safety training, mine inspections, and equipment standards were brought into force.
NIOSH, Spokane Research Laboratory, 315 E. Montgomery, Spokane, WA 99207