January 30, 2006

Canadian miners safely above ground after fire

By Amran Abocar

TORONTO (Reuters) - A group of Canadian miners, trapped by
a fire in a potash mine for 24 hours in central Canada, were
finally brought to the surface after the mine was cleared of
fire and smoke, a mine official said on Monday.

The fire, which broke out at 3 a.m. Central Standard Time
early on Sunday at the mine in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, had
forced 70 miners to rush to safety in emergency refuge rooms.

It was unclear whether all 70 miners had been brought to
the surface or just the first group.

The mine is owned by Minnesota-based Mosaic Co and is near
the provincial border with Manitoba. The company will hold a
press conference shortly to discuss the incident.

"They're up," said a Mosaic official, manning the company's
hotline in Esterhazy. "The ones that there was originally no
communication with have come to the surface."

Mine officials had originally said they had lost radio
contact with 30 of the miners but later found them safe in a
refuge room.

Miners at the site reported smoke almost a little more than
a half mile underground early Sunday morning.

The miners had been pinned in several safe rooms as
firefighters battled the blaze and then focused on clearing the
smoke from the mine so the workers could be safely evacuated.

Company spokesman Marshall Hamilton said a rescue team had
reached the refuge rooms, seen the miners and sealed them back
in the safe rooms until the fire was being extinguished.

The fire was finally put out and rescuers began the task of
ventilating the mine, a process made slower by the size of the
mine, about 18.6 miles by 12 miles.

Hamilton said the miners were trained to seek safety in the
refuge stations, specifically built and designed for such

"In those refuge stations, the workers can seal themselves
in and be safe with enough oxygen, food and water to be
comfortable for 36 hours at the least," he said, adding that
the families of the trapped miners had been kept informed.

The mine scare raised memories of a fatal explosion in a
West Virginia coal mine earlier this month. Twelve miners were
killed and one injured in the blast.

The Canadian mine is the main employer in the small
Saskatchewan town. It produces potash, a mineral used in the
production of fertilizer.