Dozens of workers had to spend the night about one kilometre underground after a fire at a potash mine in southeastern Saskatchewan.
Randy Burton, spokesman for PotashCorp (TSX:POT), said the fire broke out Wednesday afternoon in a small truck that was sitting in an underground lot near a main shaft at their Rocanville operation, about 230 km east of Regina.
Burton said emergency crews quickly put out the fire, but 87 workers had to take shelter in refuge stations located throughout the mine because of air quality concerns. No one was injured.
“There was a lot of smoke generated. We don’t let anyone leave the mine until we’re satisfied that the air is clear and safe to breathe.”
The fire happened just around shift change time.
“Some of the workers had already come out. Others were nearing the end of their shift and were preparing to leave. I think under normal circumstances, the day shift is about 110 people,” said Burton.
The workers came to the surface in stages, starting around 11:30 p.m., once the air was determined to be safe. The last group came up shortly before 5:30 a.m.
Burton said the vehicle that burned is somewhat similar to a pickup truck.
“They’re a relatively small vehicle used to transport staff to and from work sites.”
The refuge stations are large underground rooms that are sealed off from mine operations and provide workers with clean air, water, food and other supplies to wait out emergencies that could last hours or possibly days.
“Any time there’s a fire underground there’s going to be smoke. We don’t take any chances in that regard. The rule is get to a refuge station right away,” said Burton, who believed the truck that caught fire was diesel powered and was destroyed.
Normal mining operations resumed late Thursday morning. An investigation into the cause of the fire continues.
In September, 2012, 20 workers at the Rocanville site had to wait several hours to be brought to the surface after a fire started in a large wooden cable spool. It was extinguished about 10 hours later.
In January 2006, 72 miners survived a fire at Mosaic’s potash mine in Esterhazy that started when a cutting torch ignited flames in some plastic piping.
It took 30 hours, but all of the miners were brought to the surface without so much as a cough, according to company officials.
Esterhazy has been heralded as a textbook example of mine rescue.