December 5, 2022

The worst fire in the history of Cuba is under control

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(Matanzas, Cuba) — Firefighters finally defeated what authorities described as the worst fire in Cuba’s history on Tuesday, which over five days destroyed 40% of the Caribbean island’s main fuel storage facility and caused massive blackouts.

Reuters witnesses reported that the flames that devastated a four-tank sector of the Matanzas supertanker port had died down and that the towering plumes of thick, black smoke billowing from the area had subsided and were now mostly gray.

Matanzas is the most important port in Cuba to receive imports of crude oil and fuels. Cuban heavy crude, as well as fuel and diesel stored in Matanzas in 10 huge tanks, are used primarily to generate electricity on the island.

Mexican and Cuban firefighters work to put out the fire in the fuel depot that was caused by a lightning strike.

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

Firefighter Rafael Pérez Garriga told Reuters on the smoldering outskirts of the disaster that he is worried the fire will affect the country’s energy situation.

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

A man fishes as smoke rises from a massive fire at a fuel depot in Matanzas, Cuba, on August 9, 2022.

The communist-run country, under heavy US sanctions, is nearly bankrupt. Frequent blackouts and shortages of gasoline and other basic goods had already created a tense situation with scattered local protests following the historic riots last summer in July.

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

“We have not yet been able to access the impact zone due to conditions. There is combustion and for now we cannot risk our lives,” Pérez said around noon.

Later that day, firefighters first entered the area and sprayed foam and water on the still-smoldering wreckage.

“Today we have managed to control the fire,” Rolando Vecino, head of transportation for the Interior Ministry, told state television from the scene.

Authorities have not said how much fuel was lost in the fire that destroyed the four tanks. Authorities claimed that no oil had contaminated the nearby Bahía de Matanzas. Still, residents as far away as Havana were warned to wear masks and avoid acid rain due to the huge plume of smoke generated by the fire.

One firefighter was killed and 14 were missing on Saturday when the second tank exploded, authorities said Tuesday, correcting an earlier figure of 16 missing. Another five remain in critical condition.

Mario Sabines, governor of Matanzas province, some 130 kilometers (60 miles) from Havana, joked about the flames spreading like an “Olympic torch” from tank to tank, turning each one into a “cauldron.”



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