Manitoba nickel miners who were forced to seek refuge from fire back at surface

THOMPSON, Man. – All of the miners who were forced to seek safety in underground refuge areas after a fire broke out at a northern Manitoba nickel mine have been safely returned to the surface.

Vale, which operates the mine in Thompson, said that the last eight miners who were waiting for rescue were brought out of the mine Monday afternoon.

The company said the fire broke out Sunday in a piece of remotely operated machinery about 850 metres underground.

Thirty-nine workers in the mine moved to the refuge stations, and workers in another mine that is connected by a tunnel also took refuge as a precaution.

“We are able to report that all remaining employees who were in refuge stations have been released and have returned to surface,” Ryan Land, Vale’s manager of corporate affairs in Manitoba, said in the news release.

“We have confirmed that there were no injuries and we have accounted for all personnel.”

Land said the fire started in a very large loader, called a load haul dump, which is used to clear areas before it’s safe for workers to enter.

He explained that workers were alerted to the emergency by the release of “stench gas,” which is purposely released into the mine’s air supply to notify everyone there’s trouble.

The company said the workers in the adjoining mine were released Sunday night. But the ones in the mine where the fire occurred had to wait until Monday morning before the air quality was satisfactory and rescuers, who progressed from rescue station to rescue station, could release them.

Land said the refuge areas have a sealed door, oxygen and supplies if the workers have to remain in them for an extended period.

The company said the fire was contained to the machinery and that a “fire watch” was underway.

Vale said the mine was expected to return to full production later Monday.

“We are reassured that our fire and rescue procedures worked and we achieved zero harm to our people, who will be returning safely to their homes and families today,” Land said.

— By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton