Oil plant burns in mystery fire

Beaches near Matosinhos, about 20 kilometres north of Porto, were evacuated as a fire at an offshore oil terminal in northern Portugal raged for hours before being contained by firefighters.

According to a bombeiros spokesperson, the fire started after two explosions in pipelines, as workers transferred oil from a ship in Matosinhos. It was finally brought under control after the pipeline was cut off on both sides, reducing the risk the fire might spread. Seven firefighters were treated for minor burns, smoke-inhalation and other injuries.

In all, about 180 firefighters from 12 divisions and backed up by 51 firefighting trucks and other vehicles were deployed to battle the blaze. Their main priority was to stop the flames from travelling the 1.5 kilometres through the pipeline to the Petrogal refinery on shore. “This was a very serious situation,” said Matosinhos Câmara President Narciso Miranda.

The cause of the fire is still unclear, but local politicians have called for a government inquiry. The Matosinhos plant produces 4.8 million tonnes of refined oil a year. The director of the refinery, José Roque, said it would not shut down, despite damage to the pipeline that supplies all of northern Portugal. “The supply of refined products to the north of the country passes through these pipelines and they will have to be shut down. But we have enough stock at the refinery to keep supplying this area of the country for several weeks without problems.”