Sunshine Mine lays off 24 miners

Smoldering fire produces carbon monoxide in mine, making conditions unsafe for work

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COEUR d’ALENE — Denver-based Sunshine Silver Mines Corp., which owns the Sunshine Mine near Kellogg, has reduced its workforce at the mine by 24 people.

Company spokeswoman Monica Brisnehan on Friday said the company still has 44 people working there above ground.

The layoffs occurred Wednesday.

The silver mine was evacuated on Feb. 14 after a sensor in a vent shaft detected carbon monoxide inside, Brisnehan said.

Twelve people were underground at the time, during the evening. All were workers for an underground mining services contractor called The Redpath Group, with headquarters in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.

“It was a very low level (of carbon monoxide), still within safe operating levels,” she said.

She said the mine currently has a “low-level fire,” with underground timber infrastructure smoldering.

“We are limited in our ability to get into the mine,” she said.

She said she was not sure how long it would be before mine workers could safely resume work in the mine.

“We’ve reassigned as many people as we could to jobs on the surface,” she said.

When the carbon monoxide was first detected in the mine it was evacuated, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration was called, and representatives from the agency arrived at the mine, she said.

Sunshine Silver is working on locating the source of the fire and developing plans for extinguishing it, she said.

MSHA, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, is on scene approving and monitoring plans for dealing with the fire.

“They have been a tremendous wealth of information and support for us,” she said.

The long-term goal of the company is to return the mine to production.

The company has only been working on refurbishment of the mine since it purchased it in 2010.

Currently, the only people going inside the mine have been members of the fire team.

“We don’t expect there are flames down there,” she said. “But there might have been.”

She said the company believes the fire originated at the 3,100-foot level.

Laura Piche, a spokeswoman for mining services contractor, Redpath, declined to comment at this time.

Ninety-one men died in the historic Sunshine Mine fire in 1972.

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