Matanzas oil fire: Cuba’s worst fire ever brought under control after burning for 5 days at depot, officials say

Reuters witnesses reported that the raging flames that ravaged a four-tank segment of Matanza’s supertanker port had subsided, and the tall plumes of thick black smoke pouring from the area had subsided and were now mostly gray.

Matanzas is Cuba’s largest port for receiving crude oil and fuel imports. Cuban heavy crude oil, as well as heating oil and diesel fuel stored in Matanzas in 10 huge tanks, is mainly used to generate electricity on the island.

Lightning struck one fuel tank Friday night. The fire spread to a second by Sunday and engulfed the four-tank site on Monday, accompanied by huge explosions and despite the efforts of local firefighters backed by more than 100 Mexican and Venezuelan reinforcements.

Firefighter Rafael Perez Garriga told Reuters on the steaming fringes of the disaster that he is worried the fire will affect the country’s power situation.

“The situation is going to be more difficult. If the thermoelectric plants are supplied with that oil, we will have the whole world affected, it is electricity and it affects everything,” he said.

A man fishes as smoke rises from the massive fire at a fuel depot in Matanzas, Cuba, on August 9, 2022.
The communist-ruled country, under heavy US sanctions, is almost bankrupt. Frequent power outages and shortages of petrol and other raw materials had already created a tense situation with scattered local protests after last summer’s historic unrest in July.

On Tuesday, several helicopters joined the effort to extinguish the fire, along with two fireboats sent by Mexico along with heavy firefighting equipment.

“We have not yet been able to access the impact area because of the conditions. It is a burn and therefore we cannot risk our lives for now,” Perez said around 10 p.m.

Smoke rises from a deadly fire at a large oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba on August 9.

Later in the day, firefighters entered the area for the first time and sprayed foam and water on the still smoldering remains.

– Today we have managed to control the fire, said Rolando Vecino, head of transport for the Ministry of the Interior, on state television from the scene.

Officials have not said how much fuel was lost in the fire that destroyed all four tanks. Authorities stated that no oil had contaminated the nearby Matanzas Bay. Still, they warned residents as far away as Havana to wear face masks and avoid acid rain because of the huge plume of smoke the fire generated.

A fire helicopter drops water on a massive fire at a fuel depot in Matanzas, Cuba, August 8.

One firefighter died and 14 were missing on Saturday when the second tank exploded, authorities said on Tuesday, correcting an earlier figure of 16 missing. Five others are still in critical condition.

Mario Sabines, governor of Matanzas province, about 130 km from Havana, wondered that the flames spread like an “Olympic torch” from one tank to the next, turning each into a “cauldron.”

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