China Daily reported 36 miners were working in the shaft at around 11pm on Wednesday when the fire ignited at the Huquangou mine in the Shanxi Province.
Eighteen of the workers managed to escape the fire and rescuers found three bodies in the shaft at about 7am Thursday morning.
Deputy head of the Rescue Headquarters Wang Xingui told China Daily rescuers had tried to use pipe water and liquid nitrogen to put the fire out but the blaze was too fierce.
He said it was unclear whether the remaining 15 workers were alive.
Initial investigations have suggested the fire was sparked by an underground cable that caught fire in the fully licensed coal mine.