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Over a dozen firefighting teams deployed to blaze at Poland's largest coal mine

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clouds of smoke over Europe's largest lignite power plant in Betchatow, central Poland on November 28, 2018.
clouds of smoke over Europe's largest lignite power plant in Betchatow, central Poland on November 28, 2018.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Thirteen firefighting teams were deployed in Poland on Saturday to tackle a blaze at the country's largest brown coal mine.

The fire broke out at midday at Belchatow mine, which has large reserves of lignite or brown coal. Huge clouds of black smoke covered the area, which also includes Poland’s largest lignite power plant.

A spokesman for the firefighters in Lodz region, Jedrzej Pawlak, said there were no reports of casualties. He said the conveyer belt was 30 metres high, making access to the fire difficult. He said it was brought under control but was not out.

State energy group PGE that runs the mine and the neighbouring power plant said on Twitter the fire was caused by the ignition of brown coal that was being conveyed to the Belchatow power plant's Unit 14 reactor. The fire did not reach the unit and the power plant was not affected, it said.

Unit 14 was the only one that remained active at the power plant when 10 other units suffered an automated outage Monday that was caused by malfunction at a nearby power switch. Unit 14 is connected to a different switchboard.

PGE said a special commission was formed to determine the cause of the fire.

The fire Saturday came a day after top European Union court ordered Poland to immediately halt operations at another lignite mine in Turow, on the Czech and German border, that also belongs to PGE. Officials in the Czech Republic had complained that the mine used up their groundwater and affected their residents.

Poland's minister for state assets, Jacek Sasin, declared that Poland did not accept the court's ruling and would not take any steps that could undermine Poland's energy security as it phases out black coal.

A tweet by PGE suggested that Poland was not being treated fairly because the EU was not ordering Berlin or Prague to close 14 lignite mines they operate close to Poland's border.

Coal makes up 65% of Poland's energy sources, including 17% from lignite, while about 25% of the country's energy comes from renewable sources. Poland's heavy reliance on coal is a source of tensions in the 27-nation EU, which is seeking to meet ambitious goals to reduce the bloc's greenhouse gas emissions.