Fire at Cuban Petroleum Terminal Expands to Fourth Fuel Tank

The massive smoke plume from the Matanzas fire (Bruno Rodriguez)

Published Aug 8, 2022 7:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

The fire at Cuba's Matanzas tank farm has spread to two more giant storage tanks, bringing the total to four and increasing the complexity and challenge of the firefighting response.

The fire started with a lightning strike on one tank at the Matanzas Supertanker Base east of Havana on Friday night. On Saturday morning, the heat and fire from the burning tank ignited the adjacent tank, causing a massive explosion which left more than 120 injured and 17 missing. 

Late Sunday night, the second tank collapsed after about 40 hours of burning, leading to a sudden release of fuel and an accelerated rate of combustion. The light from the explosion could be seen as far away as the Havana boardwalk, according to social media posts.

In the early hours of Monday morning, another massive blast occurred as the fire ignited a third tank. The smoke initially obscured the tank and made evaluation difficult, but Cuban officials confirmed the incident later in the day. 

"The risk that we had announced occurred and the fire that was in the second tank compromised the third tank, which is now on fire, functioning as an Olympic cauldron, like a stove, with very little visibility because there is a lot of smoke," said the governor of Matanzas, Mario Sabines Lorenzo, in a statement carried by state media. 

In a press conference late Monday, firefighting chief Lt. Col. Alexander Ávalos Jorge said that the fire had "compromised" a fourth tank and that the timeline for extinguishing the blaze remains uncertain.

The government of Venezuela has dispatched a 5,000 GPM portable firepump to assist with the effort. Once set up, it will be used to spray firefighting foam on the tank fire. In addition, crews are preparing earthen berms to contain fuel spills and prevent the further spread of the fire. In the meantime, Cuban officials have dispatched cropdusting airplanes and helicopters to deliver small quantities of water over the fire. 

The United States government has a tense relationship with Cuba, but in a statement, Cuba's president said Sunday that the U.S. had offered technical advice on fighting the fire, which had been accepted. On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Havana added that it is "standing by in case Cuba requires humanitarian or technical assistance from the United States."