ESTERHAZY, Saskatchewan – Rescuers on Monday retrieved all 72 western Canadian potash miners who had been trapped underground by a fire.
The miners were trapped early Sunday when a fire started in polyethylene piping more than a half-mile underground.
When toxic smoke began to fill the tunnels, the miners retreated to so-called refuge stations — spacious chambers that can be sealed off and are equipped with supplies of oxygen, food and water.
Thirty-two miners were brought to the surface at about 3:30 a.m., said Mosaic Co., which owns the mine. Another 35 emerged a few hours later. No serious injuries were reported.
"They are glad to be on the surface," said Brian Hagan, director of health and safety for Dynatech, the contractor that employed the miners. "They protected themselves and that is what they are trained to do."
Marshall Hamilton, a spokesman for Mosaic Potash, said Monday morning that the five remaining miners were safe and expected to be brought to the surface shortly.
Rob Dyck, one of the members of the rescue team, said the fire created a lot of smoke.
"It was hot, dusty, but our training came through," Dyck said. "We've been in smoke before, but probably nothing this complicated."
The miners were not exposed to the smoke, Hagan said.
"A lot of them said they had a good sleep down there in the refuge station," he said. "They were pretty calm. They had water, they had food, they had all the stuff that they needed."
The mine, which was Saskatchewan's first potash operation when it opened in 1962, is located about 125 miles northeast of Regina.