Old toxic coal dumps at North Rothbury continue to burn almost two months after a bush fire ignited in the area, threatening homes, animals and locals, according to the site's former owner.
Long-time North Rothbury resident John Butler raised the alarm with Chris Richards who knows only too well how fire can easily take hold on the site.
Mr Richards once owned land around the Huntlee and Ayrfield Colliery sites, selling them as part of a 790 hectare package to developer Duncan Hardie in 2007. The site was later developed as Huntlee.
"Once the fire gets into these dumps it's almost impossible to put them out without a major intervention," Mr Richards said. "These continually self igniting fires are a huge danger."
But a spokesperson for Cessnock City Council said neither council nor the current owner were aware of fires in that location.
"The site contains many highly flammable acidic coal dumps which have a catastrophic build-up of rubbish and undergrowth. The coal dumps now leak out millions of litres of highly acidic water into the local environment and Black Creek,' Mr Richards said.
"These coal dumps are so flammable that when I owned the site I had a contract with a local earth moving company who delivered tens of thousands of tons of this waste to local power stations who put the waste directly into their furnaces," Mr Richards said.
Mr Richards claims a deliberately lit fire in the coal dumps some years ago near the Hunter Valley Railway Trust site took the EPA and fire fighters several months to extinguish and cost millions of dollars.
"The SES had prepared North Rothbury for a total evacuation should there have been a major wind change," he said.
"It was a miracle that the fire did not escape into the underground workings in that area.
"During the early life of the mine I have been told by old miners who once worked there that the colliery mined and extracted coal under these coal dumps, close to Huntlee, the new Coles development, and parts of Branxton.
"Should a fire start it would be almost impossible to extinguish. The smoke given off from a coal burning fire is highly sulphuric and toxic. This would directly affect Huntlee, homes in North Rothbury and Branxton causing mass evacuations."
Mr Richards said a warning story The Mercury published in 2017 about these coal dumps and the disastrous effect they could have on residents and the local community, had fallen on deaf ears.
After the story was published he sent pages of correspondence to the EPA and Cessnock council.