Thirty rescuers searched a gold mine in southern Peru Tuesday for survivors of a fire and cave-in that killed three miners and trapped up to 300 for more than three days, officials said.

Police Lt. Juan Robles said noxious gas and heavy smoke was hampering efforts to find the miners, who he feared had succumbed to the gases.The miners had been trapped in the hillside mine since a fire broke out Saturday, and the collapse Monday morning further complicated rescue efforts.

Robles said the 150 to 300 miners were trapped at the privately-owned Sol de Oro gold mine near Nazca, on the Pacific coast 230 miles south of Lima.

"We believe that there are miners trapped in the second, third and fourth levels" of the five-level mine, he said.

Lima's Civil Defense office said official spokesmen were unavailable and that it had no information on the cave-in.

Robles said in a telephone interview from Nazca that a 30-man team was conducting rescue operations and had recovered three bodies.

He said the mine tunnels gave way after a fire sparked by gas lamps destroyed supporting beams on the mine's second level.

The fire began on the first and second levels Friday, but was controlled by miners, said Robles. It flared again on Saturday, preventing the miners from escaping.

The official said more than 900 miners work at the mine, but many have the weekend off. The exact number in the mine at the time of collapse was not known.

Robles said a portion of the mine was taken over by workers a year ago under a law permitting workers in small mining operations to own shares of private mines.

Mining is Peru's most important industry and accounts for more than half of its foreign exchange. Gold is the nation's fifth leading mineral behind copper, silver, lead and zinc.