XINMI, Henan province: A coal mine fire in central China's Henan province killed 25 miners overnight on Tuesday, leading to the removal of four local government officials.
The incident began as electric cables caught fire at 8:30 pm on Monday in a main pit of Dongxing Coal Mining Co in Xinmi city in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, when 31 workers were working underground, according to the information office of Zhengzhou municipal government.
Six miners were saved in a rescue operation that ended at about 2 am on Tuesday.
The dead miners were identified as migrants from the provinces of Henan, Anhui and Sichuan.
Family members of the miners arrived in the city after hearing the news, only to learn of the loss of their loved ones.
The amount of compensation to be paid to their families is still being negotiated, said Chen Xiaoying, 37, wife of Wang Hongen, who died in the accident.
Wang, a 42-year-old miner from nearby Xingyang city, was the only source of income for his family, which included his wife, two teenage sons and an 80-year-old mother.
A coal miner in Henan usually earns a monthly wage of about 2,000 yuan ($290).
In the wake of the accident, the local government has rushed to crack down on the relevant officials and the local Dongxing coal company that owns and runs the mine, which was banned by local authorities from producing coal and was operating illegally.
The sacked officials are: Su Yingxi, a vice-mayor of Xinmi; Fan Ruihui, governor of Niudian township where the mine is located; Zhu Xinxian, another township official in charge of work safety; and Pei Guoqi, a deputy director of Xinmi coal mine bureau.
The Xinmi government also dismissed three work safety inspectors deployed by the municipal and township governments to oversee the mine.
Fu Mancang, who funds the company, has been put under criminal detention along with three company managers. Their personal accounts and the company's accounts have been frozen.
The coal mine fire is the latest in a string of accidents, in which miners have died from exposure to fire and gas at mines under reconstruction.
Wang Shuhe, deputy director of State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said the mine should have been undergoing repairs, but operations had resumed without a production license having been issued.
The renovations were aimed at expanding the mine's annual production capacity from 60,000 to 150,000 tons.
Mines being rebuilt are strictly banned from producing coal, but Dongxing coal company had ignored the ban by resuming production, said Wang, who also blamed a lack of supervision for the accident.
Documents from the coal mining regulatory office in Zhengzhou show that in 2009 production was prohibited at the mine over safety concerns.
Coal mining is one of Xinmi's main industries and the city has 101 mines, among which 98 are under reconstruction.