The Sunshine Mine, the nation's largest silver mine and site of a disastrous 1972 fire which took 91 lives, was evacuated Wednesday night when smoke was detected at the 3,100-foot level.

All 67 miners underground at the time were safely evacuated, although one hoist operator stayed underground for about two hours on emergency breathing gear until a rescue crew could reach him."There was a lot of smoke and we thought it best that he stay put until we could get someone to him to escort him out," said Jack Cowley, personnel director at the mine, which is located in the Coeur d'Alene Mining District of northern Idaho.

The 1972 fire claimed the lives of 91 miners and kept the mile-deep mine closed for more than seven months.

By contrast, Cowley said the fire Wednesday night was quickly detected by warning devices shortly before 8 p.m., enabling the safe evacuation of everyone underground.

"All emergency procedures functioned according to plan," said Cowley, who noted that the fire appeared to be contained to a specific location at the 3,100-foot level.