Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is big coal country. Wyodak Resources Development has operated mines in the Basin for about a century. But something else has been using up Powder River coal much longer: fire.
A series of articles in the Grace Raymond Hebard Papers reported fires burning through underground coal seams near Gillette in the 1920s. Though when and why the fires started is unclear.
The first settlers in Gillette guessed the fires had been burning for more than one hundred years.
Over the site of perhaps the largest coal seam in the US, the ground had been heated enough to cook hot dogs and boil coffee. Many picnickers made full use of this in the 1920s. It worked well as long as they didn’t mind the taste of sulfur in their sausages.
Perhaps that’s where the area’s largest burning coal bed got the name of Devil’s Kitchen.
For more on coal mining visit UW’s American Heritage Center in Laramie.