At least 15 killed in Indonesia’s Aceh province when gushing oil well erupts in flames
The fire at an apparently unregulated well broke out when villagers gathered to collect overflowing oil
Fifteen people have been killed and dozens injured in a huge blaze at an illegal oil well in Indonesia, authorities said on Wednesday.
Several homes were also destroyed after an oil spill sparked a huge fire at about 1.30am in a residential area on Sumatra island’s Aceh province. It was still burning by early afternoon.
“There was a group of people digging in the old well but suddenly a huge fire was sparked and it exploded,” said national police spokesman Setyo Wasisto.
At least 15 bodies have been recovered, police said, while some 40 “severely injured” victims were being treated at local hospitals. It was not clear if any were in life-threatening danger.
Images from the accident showed a towering flame shooting into the sky above homes and palm trees as curious villagers looked on.
Firefighters were at the scene, with state-owned oil company Pertamina assisting their efforts.
Police said the victims were collecting oil from around the entrance of a wellbore when the blaze erupted.
It was not known how much oil was spilled or what ignited the fire, but authorities suggested a lit cigarette as a possible cause.
“There were many people there who were smoking,” police spokesman Wasisto said.
“It’s a village so many were scrambling to get oil and it was crowded,” he added.
East Aceh is dotted with numerous small-scale oil mining operations, which are often run illegally by local villagers.
There are reportedly tens of thousands of such wells across the Southeast Asian archipelago.
Abandoned oil wells are sometimes re-tapped while locals also drill into fresh sites to find new sources.
Although authorities said the Aceh operation was illegal, deadly fires are not uncommon in Indonesia, a sprawling country of more than 260 million people where safety regulations are often flouted.
In October, 47 people died after a blaze tore through a fireworks factory outside Jakarta.
Workplace safety is often lacking in Indonesia and there are also concerns about lax building standards.
This year, Jakarta temporarily halted all elevated transportation projects after a dozen major accidents killed five and wounded dozens more.
That directive followed a balcony collapse at the Jakarta Stock Exchange building which injured dozens.