Underground fire prompts Pogo gold mine evacuation; feds launch routine investigation

Jun 19, 2012

A federal mine-safety official from Anchorage has been at the Pogo gold mine since this morning investigating the evacuation and shutdown of the mine in response to a vehicle fire underground early this morning. KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports from Delta Junction.   

Pogo spokeswoman Lorna Shaw says an official with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration arrived this morning and has been checking out the site and examining the company’s plan to resume operations.

Pogo officials had hoped to resume operations later today but a federally mandated re-opening process makes that less likely.

Mine officials evacuated 34 workers just after midnight, when the operator of a haul truck reported a fire in the engine compartment. The operator activated the rig’s on-board fire-suppression system, which extinguished the fire, then he contacted the mine supervisor, who ordered the evacuation and shutdown.

Shaw says the evacuation was a routine action taken in compliance with federal regulations and company policy. The mine is located about 38 miles northeast of Delta, and is owned and operated by Japan-based Sumitomo Metal Mining.

Shaw says the evacuation was conducted safely and that no injuries occurred. She says Pogo officials determined soon afterward that there was no smoke nor carbon monoxide in the mine.

Mine Safety and Health Administration spokespersons in Anchorage and Washington, D.C., were unavailable to talk about the Pogo mine incident.

Shaw said in a news release issued today that the mine will remain closed until federal mine-safety officials review the situation and approve the company’s re-entry plan. She says a routine process of re-opening the mine involving a team of mine-rescue personnel must be conducted before the mine can be reopened. The process will begin after two additional rescue-team members from the Greens Creek gold mine near Juneau arrive later this evening.

The federally mandated mine-reopening process requires the 12-member rescue team to check out the mine to ensure it’s safe. Once they do, Shaw says the Pogo Mine should get the feds’ OK to resume operations.

Shaw says both Sumitomo and the federal-mine safety agency will conduct investigations into the incident.