Fire halts production at BHP's largest iron ore mine

BHP Billiton has confirmed all workers at its Mt Whaleback mine in Western Australia are safe after a major fire broke out at the operation on Thursday afternoon.

Operations at the mine in the Pilbara region of the country near the town of Newman have been suspended.

ABC reports 30 firefighters were needed to bring the fire under control and one worker was treated for smoke inhalation. The report quotes a BHP spokeswoman as saying "further details of the incident are still being established".

The mine, BHP's oldest operation is one of the largest iron ore mines in the world producing 43 million tonnes last year of 62.7% iron content 'Newmont' ore reports Reuters.

The market is still well supplied so the impact may not be seen very soon," said a Shanghai-based iron ore trader. Figures to be released next week by the Pilbara Ports Authority are expected to show shipments in May from the Port Hedland terminal used by BHP to China could come close to breaking the previous monthly record of 37.4 million tonnes due to optimum mining conditions.

"May was a disruption-free month for the Pilbara, so there is no shortage of iron ore around," a commodities trader said.

The weakness on iron ore markets continued on Thursday with the benchmark price slumping to $55.20 a tonne, now down 30% year to date.