updated 6/29/2006 4:36:22 PM ET 2006-06-29T20:36:22

A large cargo container used for storage caught fire and caused an explosion Thursday behind the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe’s casino, killing two casino workers who were inside the unit, a sheriff’s spokesman said.

Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Ben Wolfinger said the victims were employees of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Bingo Casino, but he did not release their identities.

The exact cause of their deaths was unclear.

Police Chief Keith Hutcheson would not comment on what was stored in the container or what caused the fire, but said it did not appear to be arson.

Several fireworks stands operate on the Coeur d’Alene reservation, but Hutcheson would not say if any fireworks had been stored in the container, which was about 150 yards from the casino and hotel facility. The facilities remained open during the fire, which began at about 9:30 a.m. and was extinguished just over an hour later.

Death threat on same day
The explosion came on the same day that casino’s former manager, David Matheson, was scheduled to hold a press conference to discuss his efforts to give higher gaming profit stipends to tribal members.

Matheson has claimed he canceled an earlier press conference on the issue after he received a death threat. The threat was purportedly made on a Web blog, but the man who maintains the blog has said no threatening material was posted.

Matheson was fired in May, days after he sent a letter to each of the tribe’s 1,900 members saying that the casino was profitable enough to increase the tribal member payments from about $2,000 semi-annually to about $1,500 a month, The Spokesman-Review reported in Thursday’s editions.

But Chief James Allen, the Coeur d’Alene chairman, has called the plan “ill-considered and misguided,” and claims the plan would bankrupt tribal departments, the newspaper reported.

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