Cuba’s worst fires have been brought under control after 5 days, officials said

The raging flames that ravaged a four-tank section of the Matanzas supertanker port have died down and tall plumes of thick black smoke billowing from the area have subsided and are now mostly gray, Reuters witnesses reported.

Matanzas is Cuba’s largest port for receiving crude oil and fuel imports. Cuban heavy crude, as well as fuel oil and diesel, is stored in 10 huge tanks in Matanzas, mainly used to generate electricity on the island.

A fuel storage tank was struck by lightning on Friday evening. The fire spread to a second by Sunday and engulfed a four-tank area by Monday, despite massive explosions and the efforts of local firefighters backed by more than 100 Mexican and Venezuelan reinforcements.

Firefighter Rafael Perez Garriga told Reuters on the outskirts of the disaster that he was worried the fire would affect the country’s electricity situation.

“The situation is going to get even more difficult. If that oil is supplied to thermoelectric plants, we are going to affect the whole world, it affects electricity and everything else,” he said.

The communist-run country, under heavy US sanctions, is all but bankrupt. Frequent blackouts and shortages of gasoline and other commodities have already created a tense situation in July with scattered local protests following last summer’s historic unrest.

On Tuesday, more helicopters joined the effort to put out the fire, along with two fireboats and heavy firefighting equipment sent from Mexico.

“We have not yet been able to enter the impact area due to the conditions. There is combustion and so we cannot risk our lives right now,” Perez said around noon.

Smoke rises from a deadly fire at a large oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba, on August 9.

Later in the day firefighters entered the area for the first time and sprayed foam and water on the still smoldering wreckage.

“Today we managed to control the fire,” Interior Ministry transport chief Rolando Vecino said on state television from the scene.

Officials did not say how much fuel was lost in the fire, which destroyed all four tanks. None of the oil has contaminated nearby Matanzas Bay, officials said. Still, he warned residents far from Havana to wear masks and avoid acid rain due to the huge plumes of smoke produced by the fires.

A firefighting helicopter drops water on a massive fire at a fuel depot in Matanzas, Cuba, on August 8.

One firefighter was killed and 14 others were missing when a second tank exploded on Saturday, officials said on Tuesday, correcting an earlier figure of 16 missing. The condition of five others is critical.

Mario Sabines, governor of Matanzas province, about 60 miles (130 km) from Havana, said the flame spread from one tank to another like an “Olympic torch”, turning each into a “cauldron”.

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