Firefighters in Indonesia are working to put out a massive fire that has broken out at one of the country’s largest oil refineries. The fire broke out at the Balongan refinery, run by state oil firm Pertamina, at 00:45 local time on Monday (17:45 GMT Sunday).
At least five people are injured and around 950 residents have been evacuated to safety. A handful of people have been reported missing. The cause of the fire remains unclear, TV footage and videos on social media showed the fire still raging on Monday morning with a plume of smoke rising high above the refinery, located in West Java province. “We smelled a strong fuel scent first, so strong that my nose hurt, while we heard lightning strikes,” one nearby resident told local news outlet Metro TV, according to a Reuters report. According to the regional disaster management agency, five people were being treated in hospital for serious burns with another 15 with minor burns.
The injured are both nearby residents and people who were on a road near the refinery when the fire broke out. The Balongan Refinery is one of Indonesia’s largest refineries and also one of its most crucial, as it feeds fuel and petrochemicals to the greater Jakarta area. Questions have now been raised on how this incident will affect plastics and chemicals businesses and factories, though Pertamina has told the public that “fuel delivery to the public is undisturbed and currently still ongoing”. Already many are demanding answers on how such a disastrous incident could happen to a state-owned refinery. One politician, Kurtubi, pointed out in a TV interview that Balongan refinery, which has been in operation since 1994, is relatively new compared with other Pertamina refineries. Mr Kurtubi, who is a member of the House of Representatives’ commission for energy affairs, also demanded an evaluation of the distances between oil refineries and residential zones.
On social media, there were calls for a thorough investigation. “Was there sabotage or is this a genuine accident?” asked one Indonesian netizen. Others questioned whether standard operating procedure had been followed. “Otherwise, the person who caused this must be taken to court,” said another netizen. Residents from a nearby village have been evacuated to several different camps with the relief efforts further complicated by Covid-19 measures. Pertamina said the cause of the fire was unknown, but that it started during heavy rain and lightning. In a press conference later on Monday, the firm said the fire had not damaged the refinery’s processing capabilities and that operations could hopefully return to normal in the next five days. The fire was focused on the refinery tanks, with no damage to the processing plant, said Reuters, citing Pertamina Chief Executive Officer Nicke Widyawati.
The oil firm also said it was shutting down the refinery and conducting “oil flow control” to prevent any further spread. The Balongan refinery, which is located approximately 200km (125 miles) east of the capital Jakarta and measures at least 340 hectares, can process 125,000 barrels per day.