Fire in Argentina refinery kills three; six fire fighters hospitalised
A fire at an oil refinery in southwestern Argentina killed at least three people early Thursday, 22 September 2022, according to local authorities. Fire fighters worked throughout the morning to extinguish the blaze that started at a storage tank at the New American Oil refinery, about 120 kilometres from the provincial capital of Neuquen. The fire quickly spread throughout the refinery and local media outlets published video showing a massive explosion followed by dark clouds of smoke rising from the facility.
Three workers at the refinery died, said Mayor Gustavo Suárez of the nearby town of Plaza Huincul. The explosion at the refinery, owned by Argentinian company New American Oil in the town of Plaza Huincul, about 1 200 kilometres south of Buenos Aires, hit “one of the main crude tanks”, said Mayor Suárez.
The blast happened in the early hours of Thursday morning and the subsequent fire destroyed six trucks.
Dozens of fire fighters, reinforced from neighbouring communities, fought for over six hours to keep the flames "from spreading to other adjoining tanks to prevent them from exploding." Once they had doused the fire, they then had to cool down the high temperatures at the adjoining tanks.
The fire quickly “took over the entire refinery,” said Roberto Bello, a law enforcement officer with the Neuquén Police Department.
Ernesto Karstan, deputy fire chief of the Plaza Huincul Voluntary Firemen, commented that six firemen had to be hospitalised due to carbon monoxide poisoning and high blood pressure, as well as others suffering burns from the heat radiating from the tanks.
According to early information, the fire started in one of the refinery’s crude oil storage tanks, spreading to the building, the trucks and the workers inside the plant.
Neuquén Civil Defence and Civic Protection Undersecretary Martin Giusti told the local newspaper La Mañana Neuqúen that there were problems with the water supply. “They are asking for water tankers with cisterns. EPAS cleared one and they are asking nearby municipalities,” said the Civil Defence official.
By midday, a fire in one part of the refinery was “more than 70 percent extinguished”, said fire brigade Chief Jose Acuna.
The three workers, who died were “doing their duty on the night shift” according to the Cutral Co al instante website, were identified as Gonzalo Molina, Fernando Jara and a third surnamed Herrera.
Nearby schools were evacuated, the local government said.
A local trade union called for an immediate strike in the face of “repeated situations” at plants in the sector. The Private Oil Workers’ Union of the Río Negro, Neuquén and La Pampa provinces called for a workers’ strike, saying it is “fed up with the lack of commitment to the life of workers.” Local government officials and directors of major oil companies called for an emergency meeting on Friday, a call endorsed by the trade union.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, the Neuquen provincial government said.
The provinces of Rio Negro, Neuquen and La Pampa are home to several refineries.
Sources: The Associated Press, The National News, BA Times