Workers Airlifted from North Sea Oil Platform

The blaze shut down production on the "Rough Bravo" rig and the "Rough Alpha," another rig close by, which form Britain's biggest offshore gas storage facility.

As thick smoke filled the sky, two workmen, one suffering from minor burns and the other from shock, were airlifted first from the "Rough Bravo" platform, 20 miles off the East Yorkshire coast, and flown to a hospital for treatment.

During the emergency operation, three Royal Air Force helicopters were scrambled by the maritime rescue coordination center at a Royal Air Force base to airlift an additional 31 non-essential crew to safety, which left 25 personnel still on board the rig.

A spokeswoman for the energy company Centrica, which owns the Rough platforms, said a "small" fire on the rig had been quickly extinguished. She said production on "Rough Bravo" and "Rough Alpha" had been halted as a precautionary measure.

"The platform has been de-pressurised and made operationally safe," she said. "We have shut down all operations for the time being."

The Rough offshore platforms were originally developed to produce natural gas from the Rough field in October, 1975, but were converted to store gas 11 years ago.

The facility is capable of supplying around 10 percent of Britain's peak demand for gas. The shutdown caused wholesale prices to rise by 40 percent, but they are expected to fall again once it becomes clear when the facility will reopen.

Centrica bought the Rough offshore gas storage facility and linked pipeline and onshore processing plant at Easington in Yorkshire in November, 2002.