14 confirmed injured

Fire at Erbil refinery ‘under control’ after 18 hours

ERBIL – A massive fire at an oil refinery in Kurdistan Region capital Erbil injured at least 14 people including firefighters battling to control the blaze. Officials have announced that the fire has finally been brought under control.

At a press conference, Shakhwan Saeed, a spokesperson for Erbil Civil Defense, reported that the fire was brought under control in less than 20 hours with the deployment of 32 teams comprising 150 officers and personnel. The blaze, which ignited around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, was extinguished after over 18 hours.

Saeed revealed that the fire resulted in injuries to 14 civil defense workers, including ten cases of suffocation. Additionally, four civil defense vehicles were destroyed. He highlighted a critical safety lapse, noting, “The refinery lacked any civil defense measures.”

The fire broke out in a major crude oil tank on Wednesday night before spreading to a second refinery on a road southwest of Erbil, the civil defence agency said.

Thick plumes of black smoke and balls of orange flame rose into the sky above the facility, an AFP photographer reported.

The civil defence agency said the fire “started in one refinery before spreading to another”.

“More than 10 people were injured, mainly men from the Erbil Civil Defence,” it said in a statement, adding four fuel tanks and three fire trucks were burned.

Erbil governor Omed Khoshnaw said three rescuers were being treated in hospitals for burns and another 10 suffered breathing difficulties.

The main tank that was impacted contained over 5,000 tonnes of fuel, he said, putting the estimated cost of the damage caused at $8 million.

“So far, we don’t know what caused it,” said Khoshnaw, adding it could have been an electrical short circuit.

The fire still was still raging on Thursday afternoon despite the deployment of 30 rescue teams who were trying to prevent it from spreading further, the civil defence agency said.

The number of refineries in the Kurdistan region remains a subject of debate. Estimates from former members of the Kurdistan Region’s parliament vary, with figures ranging from 300 to 400. The Ministry of Natural Resources has not provided official statistics.

According to a former member of the parliamentary Natural Resources Committee, investigations suggest the presence of 192 refineries in the region, but fewer than 15 of these comply with legal and environmental standards.In Erbil governorate, there are 100 refineries, but only three meet legal and environmental requirements, following assessments of 30 refineries by the Erbil Environment Directorate.

The Kurdistan Region’s legislature addressed this regulatory gap by passing Law No. 3 in 2021, which governs the import, storage, and sale of petroleum products. This law mandates the Ministry of Natural Resources to enforce compliance and shut down or regularize unlicensed refineries.

Dilshad Hirani, Director of the Erbil Environment Directorate, emphasized the widespread lack of permits and environmental safeguards, telling 964media that a directive has been issued to close all illegal refineries in Erbil, including the one recently affected by a fire.

With Iraq experiencing scorching summers, the country has seen multiple fires in recent weeks, affecting shopping centres, warehouses and hospitals.

Iraq is one of the world’s biggest oil producers and crude oil sales make up 90 percent of Iraqi budget revenues.

But exports from the Kurdistan Region have been halted for more than a year in a dispute over legal and technical issues.

AFP contributed to this report

Fire rages at Erbil refinery, injuring at least 10

Fire rages at Erbil refinery, injuring at least 10