TOWER, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — A $50-million physics laboratory operated by the University of Minnesota is being threatened by a fire burning deep in the Soudan Underground Mine State Park near Tower.

The Department of Natural Resources says no one has been hurt in the fire, which broke out Thursday evening with no one inside the mine. The DNR says the fire isn’t a risk to nearby towns or the environment, and historic buildings above ground are safe.

The DNR said the damage inside the mine due to the fire is expected to be “extensive.”

The onetime mine is now operated as a state park. It’s also the site of physics experiments by the University of Minnesota.

The fire is believed to be burning between the 23rd and 25th levels of the mine. The $50 million Soudan Underground Laboratory is on the 27th level, near the very bottom.

Minnesota Interagency Fire Center spokesperson Carson Berglund says the power has been turned off, which means the water that naturally drains into the bottom of the mine isn’t being pumped out. If it gets high enough, it could flood the lab.

He says that could happen in one to two days.

In February, WCCO-TV reported on the water discovered at the bottom of the mine, which is believed to possibly be from an ancient sea. The ancient water is seeping from holes that were drilled long ago by miners. Some of the water bubbling out has three times the amount of salt as ocean water.

The only other place they’ve discovered something similar to this ancient water is in the very deep gorges in the ocean floor.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (5)
  1. tiredandretired says:

    So, what’s causing the fire? I’ve been down there and didn’t see a whole lot to burn. Is a flammable gas, such as methane is involved?

    1. Ralphie Boy says:

      Probably the support timbers in the shaft. Timbers are usually the culprit in hard roak iron ore mines.

  2. Don says:

    I’ve also been there. I would guess either the fire is in the electrical lift system or the science lab.
    What about the little brown bats? It’s way to early for them to be out of the mine shaft.
    Has the fire forced them out? If so how will they survive?
    More than just fire damage here.

  3. Dan Scheeringa says:

    They can have the bats that live in my pole barn.

    1. Batty says:

      They can have the ones in my attic too.

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