Fire at potash mine forces nearly 100 miners into refuge units, half still below

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SASKATOON - About half of almost 100 workers at a potash mine near Saskatoon were still underground Wednesday after a fire forced them into refuge stations Wednesday.

Bill Johnson with Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (TSX:POT) had said early Thursday that all the trapped workers at the company's Allan mine had safely made it to the surface.

But he later said a power outage stopped some of the underground fans in one area from clearing smoke, which prevented the remaining miners from leaving.

"We still have some folks underground," said Johnson.

"They're just being extra cautious in terms of waiting for the smoke to dissipate ... We'll get people up on the surface shortly."

A government spokeswoman said that as of Thursday morning, 54 of the 96 miners remained underground. All have been accounted for and there are no injuries.

The fire was sparked by an underground water truck about 3 p.m. Wednesday and a crew spent the next eight hours putting out the flames and clearing smoke.

Some miners were released throughout the night.

Johnson said the self-contained safety units are equipped to keep workers safe and comfortable.

"There's food and there's water. They're not palatial but they're sealed off, they've got cards to keep occupied."

There have been similar occurrences at other Saskatchewan mines in recent years.

In February, about 50 workers at the Agrium mine near Vanscoy spent a night in the facility's refuge station due to a fire.

In 2013, 318 miners raced to safety units after flames broke out at Mosaic's K2 potash mine near Esterhazy. They spent several hours underground until the smoke had cleared. Seven years earlier, a fire at the same facility trapped 72 workers in refuge stations for 30 hours.

Another fire in 2012 at PotashCorp's Rocanville mine in eastern Saskatchewan forced 20 miners to seek shelter. It took about 10 hours to put out the fire and several more hours for rescue crews to determine that it was safe for workers to leave.

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