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Abandoned mines a potentially dangerous issue in Arizona

A 17-year-old boy who fell down a mineshaft last week continues to recover, and his rescue has brought attention to the issue of abandoned mines in Arizona.

The teen fell into an abandoned mine while driving an all terrain vehicle in a desert area north of Phoenix.

"They are a significant hazard to the public, if they don’t know that they’re there and Arizona is basically honeycombs in many areas with these abandoned mines out there," said Laurie Swartzbaugh, Deputy Director of the State Mine Inspector's Office.

It is estimated that in Arizona alone, there are 100,000 abandoned mines.

"That’s in the database. There are abandoned mines, but many of these have been mitigated either via fencing or signing, which is your basic standard, or they have back gates put on them, or they have been backfilled," said Swartzbaugh.

Only 20,000 abandoned mines are recorded by the state.

"There are so many mines out there that the State of Arizona is not even aware of, or the State Mine Inspector is not aware of because you cannot see them until you come upon them, in many cases, and that’s what makes it a significant hazard," said Swartzbaugh.

Many of the mines from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. They were, once upon a time, far from the city, but with growth in the state, many are now on public land, or in someone's backyard.

Swartzbaugh says finding abandoned mines is still a top priority for the state, but with such a small staff, finding them can be a daunting task.

"Funding is an issue because we don’t have enough funding," said Swartzbaugh. "We have two people out in the field. We need more funding so we can hire more abandon supervisors to get more on the ground."

Arizona State Mine Inspector