Fifteen dead and 16 missing after Indonesia fuel depot fire

Lightning strike is suspected cause of blaze at Plumpang storage centre in North Jakarta

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At least 15 people have died in a fire at a fuel storage depot in Jakarta, with rescue workers and firefighters on Saturday searching through the rubble of charred houses and buildings to find 16 who remain missing.

The Plumpang fuel storage station, operated by state-run oil and gas company Pertamina, is near a densely populated area of the Tanah Merah neighbourhood in North Jakarta.

The depot supplies 25 per cent of Indonesia’s fuel needs.

At least 260 firefighters and 52 fire engines were sent to tackle the blaze, which was extinguished before midnight on Friday.

The flames spread through the neighbourhood for more than two hours, fire officials said. Firefighters were working to secure the area on Saturday.

Video of the incident broadcast on television showed hundreds fleeing while flames and thick plumes of smoke and flames filled the area.

A preliminary investigation found the fire broke out when a pipeline ruptured during heavy rain, possibly from a lightning strike, said Eko Kristiawan, Pertamina’s area manager for the western part of Java.

Residents living near the depot said there was a strong smell of petrol, with some vomiting because of the odour.

Thunder then rumbled twice, followed by an explosion at about 8pm.

Sri Haryati, a mother of three children, said the fire began to spread in their neighbourhood about 20 minutes later.

“I was crying and immediately grabbed our valuable documents and ran with my husband and children,” Ms Haryati said.

She said she heard smaller blasts as flames leapt from the depot compound.

The Indonesian Red Cross command centre revised the death toll to 15 from 17 after authorities found some victims were counted twice.

Rescuers continued searching for 16 reported missing or separated from their families during the incident.

About 49 are being treated in hospital. Some of the patients are in critical condition.

Acting Jakarta Governor Heru Budi Hartono said about 600 people were being taken to temporary shelters at government offices, a Red Cross command post and a sport stadium.

Some people went to a morgue at a police hospital in eastern Jakarta on Saturday morning to identify family members.

“The condition of corpses made them hard to recognise ... they could only be identified through DNA and dental data,” said Trunoyudo Wisnu Andiko, a representative of Jakarta Police.

Nicke Widyawati, president director and chief executive of Pertamina, apologised for the incident and said the company would provide help to affected communities.

We will carry out a thorough evaluation and reflection internally to prevent similar incidents from happening again
Nicke Widyawati, Pertamina's president director

“We will carry out a thorough evaluation and reflection internally to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” Ms Widyawati said.

She said Pertamina ensured the supply of fuel oil would be safe.

The company will utilise supplies from several fuel terminals on Java island and support the Cilacap and Balongan refineries, which are channelled by sea to the Tanjung Priok terminal in North Jakarta.

Friday’s fire was the second large blaze at the Plumpang fuel depot. In 2014, a fire at the site engulfed at least 40 houses, but no casualties were reported.

Fahmy Radhi, an energy analyst from Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, urged Pertamina and the government to move the depot away from residential settlements.

He accused the company of negligence and said it did not use international standard security systems, Indonesia's Kompas TV reported.

He said regular inspections should be conducted at the site to avoid fires.

An oil spill in 2018 caused a fire that killed five and sickened hundreds in the port city of Balikpapan. Authorities said it came from a broken pipe that Pertamina was using to transfer crude oil.

In March 2021, a fire at Cilacap petrol storage centre at the largest oil refinery on the main island of Java injured at least 20.

Cilacap is one of six Pertamina refineries with a processing capacity of 270,000 barrels a day.

Eight months later, more than 900 people were moved to safety after a fire at the Pertamina Balongan Refinery in West Java province.

Updated: March 04, 2023, 7:19 AM