SAPPORO – An earthquake-related fire at an oil refinery in Hokkaido was under control Monday night after raging for nearly 34 hours, bringing down part of a naphtha storage tank and threatening to spread to other nearby tanks.
Firefighters managed to gain the upper hand on the blaze at around 8:45. It was the second quake-related fire at the Idemitsu Kosan Co. refinery in Tomakomai since Friday.
The firefighters had been trying to douse the flames with foam and other fire-extinguishing materials sent from around the nation. But the force of the fire and high winds kept the foam from hitting key spots. Earlier, company officials had projected that the blaze would subside by the evening.
At 1:30 p.m., the on-site headquarters issued a temporary evacuation order to firefighters on the scene; there were concerns that the structure could collapse as the northeastern part of the upper section of the tank caved in.
The collapse of the wall portion had flames licking a kerosene tank about 20 meters away. Some firefighters were dousing the kerosene tank with water after making sure they had an escape route, officials said. The contents of three kerosene tanks near the naphtha tank had been transferred to other storage tanks.
Earlier in the day, Idemitsu President Akihiko Tembo visited the Hokkaido Prefectural Government office to apologize for the fires at the refinery.
The Tomakomai Municipal Government meanwhile said it has received hundreds of phone calls from residents complaining about soot and the extinguishing foam, which was covering homes and cars.
City officials have said that while the materials are not toxic, they should be washed away with soap and water.
The second fire started Sunday morning when the cover of the 30,000 kiloliter naphtha tank was shaken open and liquid spilled out due to aftershocks from the massive earthquakes that hit Hokkaido on Friday.
A fire broke out at a different tank Friday morning following the two initial earthquakes, which injured hundreds in Hokkaido. That fire was put out Friday, but most of the firefighting material kept at the refinery was used up in the operation, Idemitsu Kosan officials said.
The refinery has 105 tanks, containing crude oil, kerosene, naphtha and other oil-related material, and 45 of the tanks were damaged to some extent by the quakes.
Workers found structural damage and oil leaks in 29 of the tanks, according to the officials.
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