ZAHRANI, Lebanon (AP) — A huge fire broke out in a storage tank at one of Lebanon's main oil facilities in the country's south Monday, sending orange flames and a thick black column of smoke into the sky.
State-run National News Agency said it was not immediately clear what caused the fire that was still raging more than two hours after it broke out. Firefighters rushed to the scene and were battling the blaze in a giant gasoline tanker in the coastal town of Zahrani.
The report said no workers were nearby when the fire started. Lebanese troops closed the main highway linking Beirut with southern Lebanon that passes through Zahrani.
The Zahrani Oil Installation is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Beirut. It is close to one of Lebanon’s main power stations, which stopped functioning two days ago due to a fuel shortage. Lebanon is struggling through a serious power crisis that has resulted in electricity cuts lasting up to 22 hours a day.
The head of the civil defense, Raymound Khattar, told the local MTV station that they believe there were 300,000 liters of gasoline in the tanker. Khattar added that work is focused on extinguishing the fire and cooling down a nearby tanker, to keep it from igniting.
In August 2020, a blaze at Beirut’s port triggered a massive explosion that killed at least 215 people, wounded thousands and destroyed the facility and nearby neighborhoods. The explosion at Beirut’s port was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, that had been improperly stored for years.
Earlier this year, a German company found dangerous nuclear material stored at the facility in Zahrani. Eight small containers that weigh less that 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) containing depleted uranium salts were removed shortly afterward.
The material has been stored at the facility since the 1950s, when it was run by the Mediterranean Refinery Company, or Medreco. Medreco was an American company whose main shareholders were Mobil and Caltex and it was active in Lebanon for four decades until the late 1980s.