Investigation launched into Waihi mine fire

By Bay of Plenty Times, Hayden Donnell, Paul Harper, APNZ

An investigation has been launched into the fire inside a Waihi Gold underground mine today after rescuers successfully evacuated all 28 trapped miners.

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 gathered at the mine as their loved ones were slowly evacuated.

Counsellors were 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.

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Two six-man refuge chambers which are used at the Waihi mine. Photo: Supplied


Hauraki District Mayor John Tregidga, who is at a local government conference in Wellington today, said he was considering returning to the region as soon as possible depending on the evacuation of the remaining trapped miners.

Mr Tregidga, who is being updated by his staff and officials from the mine, said he was not aware of any previous similar incidences at the mine.

"But they've got an amazing rescue team, hugely experienced and trained,'' he said.

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Newmont Waihi Gold is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation which is based in Denver, Colorado. It operates on five continents.

The company manages the Martha, Favona and Trio mines in Waihi.

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

It's about halfway between the Martha open pit mine and the Favona underground mine in Waihi.

Construction on its twin drives, which are 590 metres and 790 metres long, began in 2010.

About 350 people are employed at the Waihi Gold mines.

Any members of the public inquiring about the fire should call 0800 639 6668.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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