WELLINGTON, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Government mine inspectors arrived at a New Zealand gold mine Tuesday to begin an investigation into the fire that trapped 28 miners underground earlier in the day.
Three inspectors from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's High Hazards Unit were at the Trio mine near the northeast North Island town of Waihi to ensure work to extinguish a burning truck in an underground tunnel was being done safely, said unit general manager Brett Murray.
"The focus now must be on the safety of those doing any work around extinguishing or containing the fire," Murray said in a statement Tuesday.
"It is important to note that this is not a coal mine. It is a hard rock mine and the explosive risk, other than from the burning vehicle itself, is almost non-existent," he said.
"The High Hazards Unit will investigate the incident."
The unit's inspectors last visited the mine in February and had not identified any issues with its operations.
The High Hazards Unit was formed after the Pike River disaster, when 29 miners died in a series of explosions in the South Island' s Pike River mine in November 2010.
All 28 men trapped underground in the Trio mine had safely returned to the surface, the U.S.-owned Newmont Waihi Gold mine company said earlier.
The company issued a statement that said a truck engine fire was reported at about 5:00 a.m. local time in the mine, and the miners followed procedure by going to three refuge chambers and reporting by phone to the surface.
All mining operations at the mine have been halted.
Radio New Zealand reported the company's operations general manager Glen Grindlay as saying that one man might have been affected by smoke, but all the others were not injured.
Mine officials said there would be a thorough investigation into the fire and the mine would not reopen until the investigation was completed.
Grindlay said they would wait for the fire to burn out before re-entering the mine.
The fire was the latest in a series of mine safety incidents since Pike River, and showed the country needed to strengthen its mine safety regime, Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EMPU) assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said.
"Coming so soon after the tragedy at Pike River it was a little close for comfort," O'Connell said in a statement.
"This incident reinforces our calls for the government to adopt stronger mine safety regulations based on the Queensland model, which is considered the worldwide best practice.
"One of the key elements of the Queensland model is for workers to elect their own check inspectors to ensure there's an independent and trusted safety representative on the job to signal the alarm as soon as potential safety hazards arise."
The main opposition Labor Party's health and safety spokesperson, Darien Fenton, said the incident was a stark reminder that the government should make improving safety regulations a real priority.
"While the government has made some progress with its High Hazards Unit, New Zealand still has essentially the same mine safety regime as it did before the Pike River Mine tragedy," Fenton said in a statement.
"While loss of life and injury has thankfully been avoided today, New Zealand's underground miners will continue to be put at risk until the government brings our safety regulations up to international standards."