ROCANVILLE, Sask. — Twenty miners waited to be brought to the surface Tuesday after a fire at a Saskatchewan potash mine trapped them underground.
The blaze broke out at about 2 a.m. when a large wooden cable spool started burning at PotashCorp.’s Rocanville mine, about 244 kilometres east of Regina. It was extinguished about 10 hours later.
However, PotashCorp. spokesman Bill Cooper said it could be several hours before the miners could leave refuge stations where they sought safety.
“It’s a matter of cooling the area down and ventilating the air,” said Cooper.
“There’s kilometres of tunnels underground and just the way the ventilation system works, it’s got to clear all that out.
“The air quality’s got to be at a point where it’s safe to take people to the surface.”
Cooper said the workers are spread out at four refuge stations in different parts of the mine. A refuge station is a large room that is sealed off from the rest of the mine and has air, water and food for several days.
A mine rescue team was earlier able to bring up nine other workers from a refuge station Tuesday.
There are four mine rescue teams at Rocanville, each with five people.
Cooper said they take turns trying to put out a fire.
“As you can imagine with a mine fire, there are a few more challenges than, let’s say, a house fire. So it’s a bit of a slower process and a more deliberate process,” said Cooper.
The Rocanville potash mine is about one kilometre below ground, but tunnels from the main shaft spread out horizontally for about 16 kilometres.
It is not the first time a fire has broken out at a Saskatchewan potash mine.
In January 2006, 72 miners survived a fire at Mosaic’s potash mine in Esterhazy.
Cooper said PotashCorp.’s emergency action plan worked well.
“Thankfully all of our employees are safe and healthy,” he said.