Firefighters battle massive fire at northern Iraq oil refinery

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — A team of 32 firefighters in northern Iraq was battling to put out a massive fire Thursday, a day after it broke out at an oil refinery, local officials said.

The fire broke out late Wednesday at a large refinery in Irbil, in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Shakhawan Saeed, a spokesperson for the Irbil Civil Defense Department, said 14 firefighters were injured -- four with burns and the other due to smoke inhalation -- while battling the blaze, which also destroyed four fire engines.

Saeed said the cause of the fire was not yet clear but that the facility appeared to be lacking in safety measures, including alarms and fire extinguishers. The owner of the refinery could not immediately be reached for comment.

A regional government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, told the Associated Press that the fire appeared to have been caused by an electrical fault.

Irbil's Gov. Omed Khoshnaw said the financial damages caused by the refinery fire were estimated at $8 million.

The Khazir refinery, owned by local private businessmen, is one of the largest in Irbil, producing gasoline, kerosene, and white oil. It had been a major supplier for the city of Mosul.

Iraq's Kurdish region produces hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each day. Previously, much of the production was exported by way of Turkey, but the exports have been halted for more than a year as a result of a ruling in an international arbitration case.

The central government considers it illegal for Irbil to export oil without going through the Iraqi national oil company and won the arbitration case against such trade.

In Iraq, summer fires are often fueled by scorching temperatures, unreliable electricity, and lax safety standards in many facilities.

In May, a fire erupted in a bazaar in Erbil, burning at least 200 shops and four storage units and injuring at least 100 people.

On Sunday, a massive fire engulfed commercial storage units in central Baghdad, covering a 3,000 square meter area made of highly flammable materials, and killed four foreign Arab workers.


Zeyad reported from Baghdad. Associated Press journalist Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

By Salar Salim And Abdulrahman Zeyad, The Associated Press