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Massive fire at ENI refinery in northern Italy blankets surrounding area in smoke cloud

02 December 2016

A fire broke out at the Sannazzaro de' Burgondi refinery near Pavia just before 4pm local time on December 1. The refinery, owned by Italy's national oil company, ENI, is one of the biggest in Italy. The company said nobody was injured and there had not been an explosion, but local media reported an eight km-long cloud of black smoke over the area and said that local authorities were monitoring air quality.

Sannazzaro refinery fire - Image: CNVVF (Italian Fire Service)
Sannazzaro refinery fire - Image: CNVVF (Italian Fire Service)

Witnesses said they saw a ball of fire rising at least 60 metres high and Angelo Bonelli, a Green MP, said it was the third fire at the refinery since July. He said there had been two others at Sannazzaro on 2 and 6 July, and that unions at the plant had denounced poor on-site safety due to staff shortages.

The 200,000 barrels-per-day refinery started a 30-day period of maintenance on November 6. The fire broke out in the Eni Slurry Technology (EST) plant,  which uses proprietary technology for the conversion of heavy oil residues into refined products.

La Stampa said damage inside the plant was extensive and ten teams of firefighters, including the refinery’s own, were tackling the blaze.

It said a huge column of black smoke initially hung over Pieve del Cairo and parts of the province of Alessandria causing local authorities to consider evacuations, but then winds lifted the column into the upper atmosphere.

In the end, only the refinery’s workforce evacuated the plant, and the Municipality of Sannazzaro told local residents to shelter in place. Schools in Sannazzaro and several other townships near the site of the refinery will remain closed on December 2, while the environmental protection agency is working to ascertain the damage to the environment.


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