Oil Refinery in Indonesia Catches Fire, Prompting an Evacuation

The state-owned oil company, Pertamina, which operates the refinery on the island of Java, suggested the fire may have been caused by a lightning strike.

Oil Refinery in Indonesia Catches Fire, Prompting an Evacuation
Thick smoke rose from a fire at a state-run oil refinery in West Java, Indonesia, on Monday.Credit...Agus Sipur/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Dera Menra Sijabat and Richard C. Paddock

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An oil refinery on the Indonesian island of Java caught fire early Monday, sending flames and smoke towering into the sky, seriously injuring six people and prompting an evacuation of nearly 1,000 nearby residents.

The blaze at the Balongan refinery in West Java Province started shortly after midnight and burned through the night and all day Monday. Pertamina, the state-owned company that operates the refinery, said it could not estimate when firefighters would be able to extinguish the fire, which was visible for miles.

In videos of the fire shared on social media, the sound of an explosion can be heard at the facility, which is about 110 miles east of Jakarta, the capital. As residents ran from the fire in panic, a 61-year-old man suffered a heart attack and died, the authorities said.

Hundreds of houses near the refinery were damaged when the explosion caused windows to shatter, prompting the mass evacuation, Pertamina said.

The company suggested that the fire may have been started by a lightning strike.

ImageOil Refinery in Indonesia Catches Fire, Prompting an Evacuation
The blaze at the Balongan refinery was visible for milesCredit...EPA, via Shutterstock

“The cause of the fire is not known with certainty, but at the time of the incident, it was raining heavily accompanied by lightning,” the company said in a statement.

Ifki Sukarya, a Pertamina spokesman, said three giant gasoline storage tanks initially caught fire. Firefighting crews tried to keep it from spreading to a fourth tank but were unsuccessful.

The six people who were seriously injured lived near the refinery, he said. Twenty-three others received treatment for minor injuries. Residents reported a strong smell of fuel, which caused some people to become ill.

Two years ago, the company was responsible for another disaster when crude oil leaked from an offshore well and contaminated a 12-mile stretch of the West Java shoreline between the refinery and Jakarta. Environmentalists criticized the company, saying it acted too slowly to contain the spill.

Company officials said on Monday that they hoped to have the refinery operating within four or five days. They said damage from the fire was mainly confined to the storage tanks and did not significantly affect operations at the refinery, which supplies the Jakarta area.

The company said the fire would not jeopardize its fuel supply and that it had enough gasoline on hand to supply the country for about four weeks.

At the time of the fire, there was heavy rain and lightning. By daybreak, things had cleared, but the fires continued to burn.Credit...Associated Press

Dera Menra Sijabat reported from Jakarta, and Richard C. Paddock from Bangkok.