Speculation Flares Online as Huge Fuel Depot Fire Burns Near Kyiv

People watching the fire near Vasylkiv, Ukraine, on June 8, 2015. Image by Maksym Kudymets from Demotix.

People watching the fire near Vasylkiv, Ukraine, on June 8, 2015. Image by Maksym Kudymets from Demotix.

A massive fire has been burning at an oil depot near Vasylkiv, a town near Kiev, Ukraine, since Monday night, raising fears of air pollution and generating speculations about the cause of the fire online. According to the latest reports, four persons have died while fighting the blaze and at least 14 people have been injured or poisoned by the fumes.

The facility contains 17 storage tanks, each of them holding approximately 900 cubic meters (32,000 cubic feet) of petrol—with at least four of them now completely burned out. According to the Ukrainian Emergency Services, the fire began Monday evening in one of the storage tanks, and soon spread to neighboring containers. Firefighters, rescue workers, and the National Guard have been on the scene battling the fire.

On Tuesday morning, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov tweeted that an explosion occurred in the midst of fighting the fire, killing several firefighters.

An explosion at the oil depot in Vasylkiv. A giant one. Firefighters dead… Emergency Services bringing in all we have. National Guard is on alert. We're working.

Early videos from the scene of the blaze showed huge clouds of black smoke and intense fire, destroyed storage facilities and equipment.

Citizens document blaze on social media
As soon as news of the fire spread, Internet users from nearby areas started posting vivid photos and videos of the fire and smoke around the facility.

To add context to the reports of the fire threatening a nearby military base and other fuel depots, users created a contextual map of the area. The depot is located in the village of Kryachki, Vasylkiv district, about 25 miles away from the Ukrainian capital.

Drones, which are quickly becoming an invaluable part of the reporting arsenal for those covering the conflict in Ukraine, were used to scope out the damage done by the fire.

Everything you wanted to know about the fire in Vasylkiv, from a bird's eye view. Drones are not just for war.

Ukrainian Emergency Services also posted scores of photos on Facebook depicting efforts to put out the fire.

Health hazard worries
Rescue workers have been evacuating people from the immediate area within several miles of the fire, although latest official reports suggest the main blaze has been “localized” and is under control. The city council of Vasylkiv, the town closest to the facility, has told local residents to close their windows and avoid going outside, raising fears of toxic particles released by the blaze. Although environmental officials have said the levels of any harmful elements in the air are within the safety norm, netizens have been sharing tips and advice on minimizing possible harm.

An acquaintance of mine who is a fuel chemist advises Kyiv residents to eat dried apples (the pectin helps get rid of heavy metals), wash their hair daily and not get drenched by the rain.

What caused the fire?
Government officials have said it's unlikely that a terrorist act caused the fire, but an investigation has been launched to probe the possibility of a technical error or any external intervention. Most speculations so far have revolved around the fuel depot business and its owners.

Some sources have suggested the competitors of the owner were the ones responsible for setting the depot on fire. Instead, Kharkiv politician Gennady Korban suspected a case of insurance fraud and claimed Stavitsky (the alleged owner) may have attempted to cover up shady business practices. Investigative journalist Dmytro Gnap quoted his own sources as saying the oil repository was notorious for producing diluted fuel, an a mistake in the production process may have caused the blaze.

These and other conspiracy theories caused frustration among some social media users who ridiculed the sudden influx of armchair analytics—a common occurrence in times of crisis.

Astrologists have announced a week of experts on oil repository fires and their extinguishing. The amount of analytics and [accusations of] treason has grown by 154%.

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