Nova Scotia

Methane fire at Donkin mine leads to stop-work order

The province has issued a stop-work order in one of two underground sections at the coal mine in Donkin, N.S., after a methane fire.

Investigators sent to mine Wednesday after being alerted to the fire. No one was injured

The fire occurred in a small section of the mine that has been in production since the end of January. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The province has issued a stop-work order in one of two underground sections at the coal mine in Donkin, N.S., after a methane fire.

Harold Carroll, executive director of occupational health and safety with the Department of Labour, said investigators were sent to the mine on Wednesday after being alerted to the fire.

He said it's not clear yet how the methane ignited, but he said the fire was extinguished quickly and no one was injured.

"We don't know until we get down and see where the fire was, and if and when there was any machinery impacted," Carroll said.

"We know there was no injuries. We're not aware of any machine damage or anything like that, so we don't know what we're going into at this point.

"It's really too soon to get any indicators as to how complex the followup is going to be."

The fire occurred in a small section of the mine that has been in production since the end of January.

Another small section was opened to production earlier this month, but most of the mine is closed to coal-cutting after a roof collapse at the end of December.

Donkin coal high in methane

Carroll said any fire underground is serious, and Donkin coal is known to be higher in methane production than other underground coal mines.

He said the mine monitors methane closely and the safety procedures seem to have worked as planned, because the fire was put out quickly.

"Basically, in an area where they were actively cutting coal, some of the residual methane that exists in the mine was ignited, and so the proper fire response was taken," Carroll said.

When a fire occurs, regulations require the company to notify the government within 24 hours, and that was done, he said.

Carroll said this is the first methane fire at the Donkin mine, which is operated by Kameron Coal. There was another fire incident, he said, but it involved a piece of equipment.

"The good news is in this case the company responded, the fire suppression equipment and everything they had in place seemed to work effectively ... but that's part of what we'll look at, as well as the operating of the equipment and things like that."

Shannon Campbell, vice-president of the Donkin mine, says the company's training, safety plans and ventilation and dust systems all worked as designed. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Shannon Campbell, Kameron Coal's vice-president of the Donkin mine, said in an email the fire broke out around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

He said a mining crew in North Panel 1 noticed an open flame while cutting sandstone.

"The crew used their extensive training, safety protocols and immediately used hand-held fire extinguishers to put out the fire, and managed the face conditions for about 60 minutes," Campbell said.

Regulations anticipated the possibility of a methane fire and the company's training, plans and ventilation and dust systems all worked as designed, he said.

Minister confident

Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis said he has faith in the department's mine inspectors and in the mine workers, despite mounting safety incidents.

"I'm confident we are operating as safely as we can, but that does not mean that it is not a risky work environment," he said.

"We're in a mine kilometres underground and you have methane gases that can spark and ignite."

Kousoulis also said Nova Scotia workers have the right to refuse unsafe work.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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