More than 90 miners at closure-threatened Daw Mill colliery were evacuated after a severe underground fire, the mine operators said today.
UK Coal said the blaze was on a scale not seen for decades and had put the future of the Warwickshire pit "seriously in doubt."
It confirmed that 92 workers were evacuated from the mine after the fire broke out at about 3.30pm on Friday.
The company said: "The fire began at a depth of 540m (1,772ft) and a distance of 8km (5 miles) from the bottom of the main shaft.
"As a precaution, UK Coal safely evacuated 92 underground workers from the mine in accordance with standard emergency procedures.
"A specialised team of 14 underground workers, trained in firefighting, remained at the scene to extinguish the fire.
"However, at approximately 7.30pm on Friday evening, due to the increasing severity of the situation, it became clear to mine management that all remaining miners should be evacuated."
It is expected to take at least three months to get the mine operating again.
Daw Mill has been at risk of closure since March last year when UK Coal announced that "restructuring" was required.
UK Coal said today the fire would lead to talks on the implications for Daw Mill's remaining workforce.
National Union of Mineworkers president Chris Kitchen said the incident graphically illustrated the dangers inherent in mining and showed why the union was totally opposed to government plans to water down safety legislation.
"Much of the legislation on mining safety was brought in over many years, often as a result of fatalities or injuries," he said.
"We will not stand for any watering down of the legislation which could endanger the safety of our members. Safety legislation should not be decided to a political timetable."
Mr Kitchen also expressed concern that if Daw Mill closed, as well costing around 500 jobs it would leave a "two-million-ton hole" in British coal supplies which would have to be filled with imports, exposing the public to "profiteering global energy firms."
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