A deep hole opened up Sunday at a 19th century abandoned iron ore mine along Old Route 100 near Barto Road in Washington Township, officials said Tuesday.

The hole, about 25 feet wide and most likely deeper than 150 feet, has been cordoned off with an orange mesh safety fence and emergency caution tape.

The hole is close to the highway on a private property.

Washington Township Manager Rick Sichler warned passersby and motorists not to go near the hole.

“It is not safe,”  Sichler said. “There is a lot of water at the bottom. We can’t have people walking up to it.”

Sichler said the township has notified the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau about the hole.

On Tuesday, the township had not yet heard back from the bureau, which oversees hazards that have resulted from mining operations in Pennsylvania.

Officials with the bureau were not immediately available for comment. 

The hole was discovered Sunday morning by Eastern Berks Fire Department members. Firefighters noticed that an apple tree had sunk into the ground.

Sichler noted that in the 1800s, iron mining was a thriving business in Berks, Lehigh, Chester and Lebanon counties.

A rain and windstorm on Sunday night may have caused the mine shaft to collapse, the township manager said.

Accuweather officials reported wind gusts as high as 63 mph in eastern Berks County.

On Tuesday afternoon, neighbors were surveying the area around the fence looking at the hole.

Washington Township Route 100 Mine subsidence sinkhole 2020

John Grubb, 79, of Washington Township, surveys a deep hole that opened along Old Route 100 near the intersection of Barto Road.

John Grubb, 79, who resides on Old Route 100, said he has been tracking the mine shafts in the region for years.

Grubb said there are iron mine shafts underneath Old Route 100.

“There was a mine underneath the hole,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Grubb was dowsing the area with metal wire rods to discover where the mine shaft is located.

He explained that when the thin wire rods crisscross he can determine the location of the mine.

He estimated that the mine was probably more than 180 feet deep.

Another neighbor, Greg Landis, 69, who resides on Lenape Road, stopped by to check out the hole.

“There are a lot of underground mines here that people are not aware of,” he said.

In September 2018, an abandoned mine opened up in a wooded area near a housing development.

The abandoned mine bureau declared an emergency.

In November 2018, the hole was filled with 816 tons of rock and covered with top soil.

Grubb said that he is confident the hole will be fixed.

Grubb also noted that he has helped new developers in the area determine the location of the underground mine shafts.

 

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