A massive fire and explosions of oil tanks at a storage facility near Kiev has killed several firefighters. After nearly a day of tackling the fire, the risk of explosions still remains in the area, authorities say.
Three reservoirs, one with oil, two with fuel, continue to burn in the area on Tuesday evening, according to Ukraine’s emergency services.
According to a local TV channel 1+1, cited by RIA:“There were 180 rescuers at the facility when the blast occurred. It’s not known how many survived. Ambulances can hardly manage to cope with transporting those injured. Rescuers say that gas pipelines run behind the oil tanks on fire, and they can explode as well.”
“Just like you, we consider the possibility that fire from the oil depot may spread to the airfield area. The Defense Ministry and the air command ‘Center’ did all they could to prevent such a scenario. All special services of the airfiled and personnel are ready. This is a facility under our special attention,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said.
The disaster at the BRSM-Nafta facility some 20 km southwest of the Ukrainian capital started on Monday night. On Tuesday, the fire spread across the site and caused massive explosions, leading to fatalities and injuries.
At least four people were killed and another 12 were injured as a result of the huge blaze at a fuel storage facility, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine commented.
One worker was fatally burned in the initial fire and then the bodies of three more fire fighters, who were unaccounted for since the morning, were discovered.
“Sadly we’ve found the bodies of three deceased emergencies workers. The men died as they were fearlessly fighting the fire,” the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov wrote on Twitter.
Some 50 fire brigades were called to the site to contain the blaze, but they were forced to back off. Residents of the nearby town of Vasilkov and several nearby villages said plumes of black smoke from the fire polluted the air.
According to eyewitness accounts, the sky over the area is filled with black clouds, and rain, black from the smoke, was reported in the depot’s vicinity, 112 Ukraina TV channel reported from the scene.
At least 500 troops from the Ukrainian National Guard have been deployed in the area around the burning facility, Anton Geraschenko, an interior ministry adviser, said in a statement.
“Their aim is to make sure that local residents are not injured,” he stressed, with the National Guard earlier saying that it was planning to send around 400 more soldiers to the site.
RT’s Lizzie Phelan, who arrived at the scene on Tuesday evening, said that even from a few kilometers away “you can see very vividly, the blaze still raging.”
“The thick plumes of black smoke are filling the sky for kilometers around here. And even if I’m breathing in, I can feel the pollution in the air that the authorities have now warned is between two and seven times above the maximum safe level,” she said.
“There’s still a steady line of cars on the road. Presumably, many of those people are responding to the government’s call to evacuate from the area,” she said.
The Ukrainian authorities told people living within a five-kilometer radius of the fire to evacuate, warning, “that it could cause an ecological disaster,” Phelan added.
“They are particularly worried about acid rain as there are a lot of toxic substances released into the air that will especially affect people suffering from chronic illnesses,” she concluded.
The footage of the Ukraine TV crew barely escaping with their lives while making a report about the blaze has been posted online.
The correspondent was recording a standup with the fire in the background when another massive explosion went off at the storage facility.
The scale of the disaster should prompt an evacuation from the area, Ukrainian environmentalist Vladimir Boreyko told RIA Novosti.
“The process is catastrophic. People should be evacuated at least in a radius of 5 kilometers due to soot and toxic products from the fire. It’s a serious blow to health and can cause lung problems and cancer,” he said.
“Then there will be the second phase: acid rain destroying crops in the fields and forests,” he added.
Zoryan Shkiryak, an aide to Interior Minister Avakov, said the cause of the blaze could be arson or a violation of safety regulations at the facility.
Also, the fire may have been started by a botched attempt to steal fuel from a storage tank, UNIAN news agency cited a police source as saying.
An investigation has been launched into the incident at the BRSM-Nafta facility, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council chief Aleksandr Turchinov said, adding that officials will determine who gave the permit to build the fuel storage facility near the airfield.
In the meantime, the heads of the storage facility said that they don’t have information about the amount of fuel in the facility.
“The general volume of the reservoirs where the fire took place has 25,000 tons of fuel. We don’t have information what volumes we had at the moment of the blaze,” the statement from BRSM-Nafta said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered his Cabinet to form an emergency task force to put out the fire at the facility, presidential press secretary Svyatoslav Tsegolko said.
Tsegolko said the theory that the incident was caused by a terrorist attack has not confirmed by investigators.