Fire in Waihi mine, all miners evacuated

By Staff Reporters - with APN News & Media

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Update: 1.02pm:

Rescuers have evacuated all 28 miners who were trapped by a fire inside the Waihi Gold underground mine.

A truck engine caught fire in Newmont Waihi Gold's Trio underground mine at about 5am, leaving the men trapped in three refuge chambers.

Mines rescue staff had evacuated thirteen of the miners by 10.30am, while 15 remained trapped in a rescue chamber deep in the mine.

Waihi Gold general operations manager Glen Grindlay said the remaining men were rescued by 12pm after seven hours in the chamber.

One man would seek medical attention for smoke inhalation, he said. There were no other injuries.

"All are in good spirits, they're very happy actually, Mr Grindlay said.

"I believe some of them thought it was a drill."

Mr Grindlay said the fire in the mine was now "contained to a stock pile".

The 35 tonne Komatsu truck had burnt out while rescue teams sought to get to the trapped men, he said.

"We opted to go for the personnel first and worry about fire later".

The cause of the fire was unknown, Mr Grindlay said.

"This will obviously be the focus of our investigation at a later stage."

Mine spokesman Kit Wilson said the miners had followed procedure by heading to rescue chambers when the fire broke out.

"In coal mines you get out. In gold mines you wait it out."

Family members are gathering at the mine as their loved ones are slowly evacuated.

Counsellors are on site to speak with the men and their families. Some of the men have already left in vehicles either to meet with family at another gathering point in the township or to go home.

DEBRIEF TO FOCUS ON PROCEDURE - UNION

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said the final 15 miners reached the surface shortly before midday.

"We're very, very relieved everyone's out unscathed,'' Mr O'Connell said.

"They're now entering into a debrief situation over the next hour or so and they've invited us [the union] into it to just consider how the evacuation process went.''

Mr O'Connell said the debrief would help evaluate how the miners reacted to the truck fire and how effective the evacuation procedures were.

"We're not rushing into finding out the cause [of the fire] at this stage. The key thing for us is to ensure the evacuation procedures went well and it appears they did,'' Mr O'Connell said.

He said part of the debrief would be speaking with the miners about how they are coping.

"Part of that ... is what are their needs, whether they need to take time out, how they are coping.''

Mr O'Connell said a lot could be learned from the evacuation.

"Particularly the fact that there has been no casualties ... it is a chance to get stuck in now and do a detailed debrief and learn as much as we can about the situation. Were there good procedures in place? Were people aware of them? Did they go with [the procedures]? How effective were they?''

Update: 12.35pm

Family members are gathering at the mine as their loved ones are slowly evacuated.

Counsellors are on site to speak with the men and their families.

Some of the men have already left in vehicles either to meet with family at another gathering point in the township or to go home.

Update: 11.17am:

A mines safety advisor says miners will be comfortable in rescue chambers below the ground.

A fire broke out in Newmont's Waihi mine just after five this morning and the 28 underground workers sought refuge in the rescue chambers.

15 miners still remain underground and are being assisted to the surface.

Mines safety advisor Dave Feickert says they've had access to breathing apparatuses in the chambers.

He says Newmont is the world's second largest gold mining company, and they're well-prepared for these kind of situations.

Dave Feickert says there's no build up of methane gas in a gold mine, reducing the risk considerably.

Update:10.59am:

All 28 miners caught underground when a fire broke out this morning are safe, and are being evacuated.

The incident happened at Newmont Waihi Gold's Trio underground mine.

After a truck engine caught fire at 5am all made it to refuge chambers and reported they were safe by phone.

The miners were gathered in three refuge chambers in different parts of the mine, and two of those chambers holding a total of 13 staff have already been evacuated to the surface by the company's Mines Rescue Team.

The remaining 15 staff are in the third refuge chamber and Mines Rescue are currently heading that way.

All the families have been notified.

Smoke is still coming out of the mine's vent shaft on Union Hill and Newmont says there's no risk of an explosion, but operations have been halted.

 

 

Update: 10.48am: 

At approximately 5.00am this morning a truck engine fire was reported from Newmont Waihi Gold's Trio underground mine. All underground personnel went to refuge chambers and reported by phone to surface.

All of the 28 miners that were underground at the time have been accounted for of which 13 have already been evacuated.

The miners were gathered in three refuge chambers in different parts of the mine, and two of those chambers holding a total of 13 staff have already been evacuated to the surface by the Mines Rescue Team and are well. The remaining 15 staff are in the third refuge chamber and Mines Rescue are currently proceeding towards that chamber.

Newmont has been notifying families and the local community since early this morning.

Three Newmont Waihi Gold Mines Rescue Teams are on site to assist with the evacuation. One of those teams is underground now, and two more are ready to assist. Assistance from New Zealand Mines Rescue and Solid Energy has also been offered.

All public inquiries for this event should be made to 0800 NEWMONT (0800 639-6668).

***

Waihi ward councillor Sel Baker said the refuge chambers in the mine were equipped to keep miners alive for up to 36 hours. They were completely sealed and equipped with oxygen, water, communication and even packs of cards, he said.

"There could be a fire a couple of feet away and they'd still be okay.

"There's concern but there's no panic… I have no fear for the guys. They'll make it out."

Mr Baker said black smoke billowing out of the mine had reduced significantly by 11am.

He said the truck that caught fire would have had a payload of about 60 or 80 tonnes and wheel at least seven feet tall.

"These things can burn for quite a while."

 

***

09.30am: Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said mine officials contacted the union to say an evacuation was "going well" at about 9am.

 

Mr O'Connell said he was confident the workers who remained trapped were safe - though smoke and other fumes from the fire posed a danger.

 

Union officials were at the mine site providing support to workers.

***

08.50am: Fire has broken out in a mine at Waihi, leaving miners trapped in underground refuge chambers.

About 5am today a truck engine caught fire in the Newmont Waihi Gold's Trio underground mine.

A spokesperson from the mine said all underground staff went to refuge chambers and reported by phone to the surface.

"All personnel have been accounted for," he said.

"The Trio mine is a hardrock gold mine and there is no risk of a mine explosion."

There are 28 people trapped in the mine.

It is believed they can stay in the refuge chambers safely for up to 36 hours.

The Australian High Commission is wanting to know how many Australians are in the mine.

Smoke is still coming out of the mine's vent shaft on Union Hill.

All operations at the mine have been stopped.

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Security guards are in place at entrances to the mine and a public access way is blocked off.

Public tours of the gold mine are cancelled for the day.

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MP for Cormandel Scott Simpson said: "I just spoke to Sefton Darby (Newmont Waihi Gold External Affairs Manager). He tells me everyone is accounted for but there are still 15 men in the rescue chamber."

"It's not appropriate for me to comment on their operational matters."

"Obviously, I'm concerned for the health and safety and wellbeing of all the personnel and am awaiting further information."

In June, Newmont told residents that it was shifting from developing tunnels next to the ore to access it, to blasting to begin extracting the ore. Production blasting is bigger but less frequent than blasts used to develop tunnels.

Newmont Waihi Gold manages the Martha, Favona and Trio mines in Waihi.

The trio mine, situated under Union Hill, is due for completion in 2014.

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(File photo from the Waihi Leader - inside the Newmont Waihi Gold's Trio underground mine)

The Trio underground system is situated half way between the existing Martha Pit and the Favona underground mine, under Union Hill close to the township of Waihi.

Newmont estimated in 2011 the project would provide jobs to around 700 staff, directly or indirectly through contractors.

Work on two development drives, 590metres and 790 meters began in 2010, with work expected to be finished in 2014.

Newmont estimates the project will produce around 1 million tonnes of ore for around 200,000 ounces of gold.

 

- Bay of Plenty Times

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