SI RACHA (AFP): A huge fire devoured millions of litres of oil today after a string of explosions ripped through a refinery here, killing two people and injuring 15. Sheets of flame soared 100 meters into the air as hundreds of firemen battled to stop the blaze from engulfing the entire structure run by Thai Oil Co, some 70 kilometers southeast of Bangkok. Thick black smoke filled the air as dawn broke over the refinery, only seven kilometers from the nearest large population center, the coastal town of Si Racha. The two dead men were security officers on patrol when the explosion rocked the refinery, a series of interconnected oil tanks, just before midnight, company officials said. The injured were taken to a nearby hospital suffering from serious burns. More than 40 fire crews and soldiers from as far away as Bangkok fought a losing battle in the early hours to stop the fire from spreading. Eight hours later, they had succeeded in checking the blaze, but not before flames had engulfed four oil tanks. Witnesses said fire crews were applying foam to nearby areas to prevent sparks igniting more fires as Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai flew down to inspect the scene. Chulachit Bunyakhet, chief executive of Thai Oil, the country’s largest refiner, said he was confident the fire was under control, although officials said surplus oil may be burning for at least another day. “The situation is now 85% under control,” he said. “There will not be more blasts after this,” he said, adding that initial estimates of damage and the cost of repairs had already reached 500 million baht. “Already 30 million litres of oil has been burned,” he said, stressing that the losses and liabilities would be covered by the company’s insurance. An investigation into what triggered the explosion is underway. “The cause of the blast is not yet established and we want to gain more facts,” said Pol Col Sathit Chareonpob, superintendent of Leam Chabang Police Station.
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