Fire forces Australian miners into shelters

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SYDNEY, Oct 24 (Reuters) A total of 54 miners were sheltering in emergency chambers underground after a fire broke out at an Australian gold mine today.

There were no reported injuries and mine officials said they were working to bring the miners to the surface.

The fire broke out in a caterpillar truck working underground at the Kanowna Belle gold mine in Western Australia state, forcing the miners to shelter in refuge stations, Barrick Gold Corp. said.

''The fire has been extinguished by the onboard fire suppression system. As a precautionary measure the 54 employees working undergound at the time proceeded to the refuge chambers,'' the company said in a statement.

''The site mine rescue team with regional assistance is in attendance and is in the process of bringing the employees to the surface,'' it said.

Kanowna Belle gold mine, 20 kms north-east of the outback mining town of Kalgoorlie, boasts a rich lode containing more than 14 million ounces of gold.

In 2006, 17 Australian miners were working in the Beaconsfield gold mine on the island of Tasmania when it collapsed. Fourteen miners escaped immediately, one was killed, and the remaining two were rescued after surviving for two weeks about a kilometre underground.

A series of mining accidents in China and South Africa this month killed almost 40 miners. Sixteen Chinese coal miners were found dead after being trapped underground for more than 30 hours, while South African police recovered the dead bodies of 23 miners after a fire in a gold mine.

REUTERS ARB KP1342

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