Soudan mine shaft fire out, power restored to pumps

Some good news from the state DNR and others fighting the fire deep in the the Soudan Underground Mine. A crew was sent into the mine today and was able to restore power and confirm that there were no more flames amid the water and fire suppressing foam.

Pumps that had been shut down are running now, alleviating the flood risk to the expensive experimental physics laboratory located below the fire that started Thursday night and burned for two days. The lab seems to have sustained no internal damage. It appears that the fire involved the timbers that supported the elevator system.

From the DNR Sunday:

Soudan Mine Fire 99 Percent Out

Responders to the Soudan Mine Shaft Fire reported Sunday that a fire that began the evening of March 17 appears to be out, but they were not able to determine its exact location.

A three-man team, using the mine’s operational elevator, descended slowly into the shaft on Sunday, dropping to the mine’s 27th level. It was their first descent in the shaft after thousands of gallons of foam and water had been sprayed into the mine during the past 48 hours. The team was only able to descend after determining that carbon monoxide levels were safe and underground communications were established with the surface. Their safety equipment included Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) and oxygen masks.

The crew did not find any active fire. They started critical sump pumps on levels 12 and 22 and water is flowing from the sump pumps to the surface. The team descended to the University of Minnesota physic lab on level 27, the mine’s lowest level and where a third pump is located, and encountered large amounts of foam. The crew tested communications from that level, but did not enter the laboratory chamber.

Fire officials will not declare the fire is officially out until its source has been located and any smoldering ashes or embers have been extinguished. Sunday’s inspection did not indicate the location of the fire. The cause has not been determined.

The fire was discovered around 9 p.m. Thursday when smoke alarms were activated. The mine, located within Soudan Underground Mine State Park, is a popular tourist attraction between May and October. Minnesota’s first iron-ore mine, the mine, about a half-mile deep, attracts 37,000 visitors per summer. It is also the location of a University of Minnesota physics lab that has several national partners. The lab equipment is estimated to be worth $50 million to $100 million.

“This incident has made this community teary-eyed,” said Jim Essig, Soudan park manager. “The mine is not just a source of livelihood. It’s a part of our history.”

The response to the incident involved many different agencies. They included the Breitung Township and Tower Volunteer Fire Departments, Inver Grove Heights Fire Department, staff from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), University of Minnesota and the U.S. Department of Energy. The latter supplies funding for the physics experiment.

(Photo: Minnesota DNR. A test elevator covered in fire suppression foam returns to the surface on Saturday).


  1. I just recently started reading about the Milford mining disaster. This is just another reminder of the dangerous and complex nature of underground work.

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