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A glimpse inside the Waihi mine after the fire

Thursday 13 Sep 2012 6:05 p.m.

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By Tom McRae

3 News has been given the first look inside the Waihi gold mine since a fire trapped 28 miners underground for several hours in July.

The underground mine manager described the truck fire as the worst thing that could go wrong in the mine, but the quick response saved lives.

After entering the mine it doesn't take long to feel like you're in another world - one where even the smallest mishap has major repercussions.

The truck fire started as the vehicle was making its way to the surface. Underground manager Charlie Gawith explained to 3 News what happened.

“He basically stopped just short of here and backed up here, by the time he'd backed into here the cab was full of smoke and he called the emergency in from there.”

If the driver had stopped in the decline, that would have fanned the flames and it would have caused a much more intense fire.

The driver made it out safely, while miners further underground scrambled to get into refuge chambers.

“It's guaranteed 36 hours, so if you had 20 people in here you'd be guaranteed 36 hours,” Mr Gawith says.

“You're going to be pretty uncomfortable.”

It's kitted out with all the mod-cons. The 15 men in one chamber had no idea of the seriousness of the emergency 200m above them. 

“[It] burnt for maybe eight to 10 hours,” Mr Gawith says. “That's the worst case scenario we could've had.”

As smoke billowed from the shafts above ground, rescue teams were heading to the trapped miners. It took eight hours to get everyone safely out.

“We knew where everybody was, we knew where the fire was. And we knew we could get to the lower chamber quite safely.”

The mine company has since modified all their trucks after finding a burst hydraulic pipe caused the fire.

“You learn from these mistakes and you make sure it's not going to happen again,” Mr Gawith says.

Safety practices are constantly being reviewed. But the Newmont Mine is considered one of the safest in the country in what can be a very risky business.

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