Apparently this was a common problem on steamships. Big pile of coal sitting in the hold ... coal bursts into flames ... not a good situation. The Titanic, for example. I never knew this until yesterday, but the Titanic was on fire pretty much from the time it left port. Coal doesn't burn particularly fast, and moving coal by hand is, well, impossible to do quickly if you have a lot of coal and nowhere to move it to ... so the Titanic's No. 6 coal bunker was smoldering for the whole trip. The usual remedy for this is to increase the ship's speed -- i.e. shovel the coal into the boiler as often and quickly as possible, so as to get down to the burning layer and get rid of it. There is one school of thought that the sinking of the Titanic was caused, in part, by this ship tearing at unsafe speeds through iceberg-infested waters because they were trying to get rid of a burning pile of coal.
*stares at pile of coal again*
Why is it so much harder to get the damn stuff to burn when you WANT it to?!