NEW MARKET, Tenn. - A fire broke out inside a zinc mine in Tennessee on Wednesday, trapping three miners inside for about three hours before they were rescued, authorities said. Two other miners below ground were injured by smoke inhalation.
The three miners were trapped by smoke and needed respirators before they could leave the mine. A rescue team helped them out and they appeared unharmed, though they were taken to a hospital as a precaution, said Tim Wilder of the Jefferson County EMA.
"They looked about as good as expected for being underground for three hours," he said.
Wilder said the miners had been in contact with authorities by couldn't leave because the smoke was so thick. "It's the ending you hope for," he said.
Renata Roberts, a spokeswoman for Switzerland-based mine operator Nyrstar, said the three rescued miners were "in fine spirits."
"We are working with mine safety officials and others to make sure it's safe to resume operations. We are undertaking a full investigation," Roberts said.
There were 54 miners underground at the time of the fire, according to Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman with the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
It was not clear yet how the fire started on a drill rig about 800 feet below ground around 1:10 p.m. EST.
The Young Mine is about 25 miles northeast of Knoxville.
According to MSHA records, Nyrstar has been operating the mine since 2006 and has had six operator injuries this year and seven operator injuries last year. Most were minor, according to descriptions of the incidents available on the MSHA website.
In November, a truck bed hit a high voltage cable causing a power outage in part of the mine. The mine was evacuated until power was restored about two hours later.
The mine had an average of about 99 miners working underground in the third quarter of 2011.