Evacuation order lifted as Wakayama refinery fire abates

Kyodo, Staff Report

A fire at an oil refinery that forced nearby residents to evacuate Sunday in Wakayama Prefecture subsided early Monday, allowing local authorities to lift an evacuation order for some 3,000 residents shortly after 4 a.m.

According to local police and fire departments, no injuries have been reported in the fire at a TonenGeneral Sekiyu K.K. refinery in the city of Arida.

Although no more flames could be seen at the plant early Monday, police and firefighters as well as Arida city officials have yet to confirm whether the fire had been fully contained, NHK said.

They will wait until flammable gases remaining in the compound are completely burned out before they start inspections.

After the fire began at around 3:50 p.m. Sunday, a pall of black smoke hung over the area for hours.

A unit producing lubricant oil is believed to have caught fire, according to firefighters and company officials. No explosion occurred.

Another fire erupted Wednesday inside a crude oil tank at the same refinery after it had been emptied for cleaning.

The refinery is only a few meters away from the Arida Municipal Office and is located on the coast. The 2.5 million-sq.-meter facility operates around the clock to produce gasoline, kerosene and benzene.

About 500 people took shelter at a local welfare center and a junior high school, where blankets and drinking water were provided.

West Japan Railway Co. took a number of safety steps, one of which was to have local trains bypass nearby Hatsushima Station on the Kisei Line due to the fire. It resumed regular operations Monday.

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