At least five people have died after being incinerated in a blaze on Wednesday at the La Esperanza sugar refinery in the northern province of Jujuy.
Five other people were treated for severe burns – in one case, covering 80 percent of the patient’s body. Around 140 people were working in the refinery at the time of the explosion, which triggered the blaze.
The flames spread so rapidly that for fear of explosions, the authorities ordered an evacuation of the vicinity with a radius of 400 metres. As a result firemen had to await authorisation before entering the grounds to see if there were any more fatal victims
The refinery blaze originated from the explosion of a tank of alcohol, according to Julio Bravo, the mayor of nearby San Pedro, Jujuy’s second-largest city, located some 60km from the provincial capital.
The Jujuy provincial government decreed two days of mourning in the province.
The refinery has been the lifeblood of the small town of La Esperanza for several years, before going bankrupt at the turn of the century. After almost two decades of several attempts to sell it off (with interest coming from as far afield as Colombia’s Omega Energy), it was finally adjudicated last June to the Argentine private company Budeguer for US$50 million, against the promise to maintain over 600 jobs.
In recent years it has averaged an annual output of 40-42,000 tons of sugar and 14 million litres of alcohol.