MOSCOW – A devastating fire swept through a Siberian coal mine on Thursday, killing 52 miners and rescuers about 250 meters (820 feet) underground, Russian media reported.
Hours after a methane gas explosion and fire filled the mine with toxic fumes, rescuers found 14 bodies, but were then forced to stop the search for 38 more due to a build-up of methane and a high concentration of carbon monoxide fumes from the fire.
State news agencies Tass and RIA-Novosti quoted emergency officials as saying there was no chance of finding survivors.
The Interfax news agency quoted a regional administration official who also put the death toll in Thursday’s fire at 52 as saying they died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
A total of 285 people were in the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region of southwest Siberia when a fire broke out and smoke quickly filled the mine through the ventilation system. Rescuers brought 239 minors to the surface, 49 of whom were injured, and recovered 11 bodies.
Later that day, six rescuers also died as they searched for other trapped people in a remote section of the mine, media said.
Regional authorities have declared three days of mourning.
Russia’s Deputy Prosecutor General Dmitri Demeshin told reporters the fire was most likely the result of a methane explosion caused by a spark.
Explosions of methane released from coal seams during mining are rare, but they cause the most deaths in the coal industry.
The Interfax news agency reported that the miners have a normal oxygen supply of six hours that can only be stretched a few more hours.
The Russian Commission of Inquiry has launched a criminal investigation into the fire into breaches of safety rules that resulted in fatalities. He said the mine manager and two senior managers were arrested.
President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the families of the dead and ordered the government to provide all necessary assistance to the injured.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane explosions at a coal mine in Russia’s far north. In the aftermath of the incident, authorities analyzed the safety of the country’s 58 coal mines and said 20 of them, or 34%, were potentially dangerous.
The Listvyazhnaya mine was not one of them at the time, according to media reports.
Russia’s technology and environmental watchdog Rostekhnadzor inspected the mine in April and recorded 139 violations, including violations of fire safety regulations.