17 Jul 2012

Gold mine fire smouldering

10:17 pm on 17 July 2012

A fire in the Trio underground gold mine in Waihi is still smouldering but has been contained.

The fire broke out at 5am on Tuesday, sending 28 miners into safety chambers until they were evacuated.

The fire started in the engine of a 35-tonne truck 100m down the mine.

At the first sign of smoke, the miners took refuge in three safety chambers designed to protect them for up to 36 hours. Smoke could be seen coming from a ventilation shaft several hours later.

The mine's own rescue teams were able to evacuate all the miners safely by noon, with only one requiring treatment for smoke inhalation. Some had been as much as 300m underground.

One of the miners says there was no panic as they often practise safety procedures in case of an emergency.

The fire has been contained in a small area and will be left to burn itself out before anyone re-enters the mine.

Operations general manager Glen Grindlay says: "Everyone's fine and in good spirits."

Mine officials say there will be a thorough investigation into the fire and the mine won't reopen until it's completed.

Gold mines not explosive

Managers say a gold mine like Waihi does not produce explosive gases as happens with a coal mine.

Newmont Waihi Gold official Kit Wilson says workers did exactly the right thing staying put underground.

"Many of us have very vivid images of Pike River. Gold mines are very different. There's nothing to explode in a gold mine so we stay in a refuge chamber and we wait for help. So in coal mines you walk out and in gold mines you stay. That's the big difference."

Mr Wilson says the response went according to plan.

All production has been halted at the two other mines run by Newmont in and around Waihi.

Union renews check inspector calls

The incident has prompted the union representing miners to renew its calls for mine workers to be able to carry out their own safety checks.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union says it is time for workers to elect their own check inspectors who can alert other miners to potential safety hazards as soon as they arise.

EPMU's assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell says he's convinced such a role would have stopped previous mining incidents.

PM relieved miners safe

Prime Minister John Key says he is delighted and relieved the miners are safe.

He says the Labour Department's high hazards unit will now inspect the mine and consider what, if any, further investigations might take place.

The unit was formed after the Pike River disaster in 2010.

Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley says once the mine stabilises, officials will review exactly what happened and report to the Government.

He says mine inspectors recently visited the mine and found no safety issues.

Mr Heatley says the report will also cover how similar incidents can be prevented in future.