Oliver Balch

A scandalous cover-up: the El Bordo mining tragedy of 1920

When fire broke out at the Mexican mine, the owners left workers to burn alive – and denied all culpability, says Yuri Herrera

Mine in Pachuca, Mexico c.1910. Credit: Alamy

On the morning of 10 March 1920, on the edge of the city of Pachuca in central Mexico, 87 miners died in a subterranean fire. Only no one is quite sure of the exact number because melted corpses are difficult to count. Nor is there any clarity on when the fire started or what caused it. What is certain, however, is that the mine owner was in no way responsible. No way at all.

Few today remember the disaster at the El Bordo mine. In Pachuca there’s no statue, no plaque, no explicit commemoration of any kind. All that remains are two brief chronicles by survivors, a handful of press cuttings and some dusty files from the accident investigation. These, and the silent — silenced? — memories of the victims’ families.

So, why are we hearing about it now? In short, it is personal. Yuri Herrera grew up in Pachuca, in a household where miners’ stories were ‘always present’. He also had a rock-climbing brother, Arturo, who became interested in the forgotten story of El Bordo while exploring the area’s old mining routes. Herrera evidently caught the bug, later dedicating part of his doctoral thesis to the tragedy.

‘Children! No phones on the table!’

Even so, the timing of this book is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it is that 2020 is the centenary year; or that after three highly successful novels, Herrera felt like a change of form; or, more probably I suspect, he just wants the story out there. A Silent Fury is his chance to right a historical wrong, to honour a memory and to recall the incinerated dead who ‘were still, are still, alive’.

Whatever his motive, he goes about his task with conscientious diligence.

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