At least 100 oil and gas tankers have been destroyed by an inferno at Afghanistan’s biggest trade crossing with Iran, causing millions of dollars of losses, officials said yesterday.
The huge blaze, which broke out on Saturday afternoon at Islam Qala port 120km from the western city of Herat, has largely been extinguished and an investigation has been launched to probe its cause.
“We were told that 100 or 200 tankers have been destroyed, but this number could be higher. We need more time to find out the extent of the damage,” Jailani Farhad, the spokesman for the governor of Herat Province said after visiting the scene.
About 20 people injured in the fire have been taken to hospital, he added.
Videos posted on social media show towering flames and huge clouds of thick black smoke billowing into the sky.
The Afghan Ministry of Finance said initial reports were that the fire started in a tanker before quickly spreading, causing “heavy financial losses,” including of fuel, tankers and customs facilities.
A delegation has been dispatched from the capital, Kabul, to investigate the blaze, the ministry added.
Younus Qazi Zada, the head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce, on Saturday said initial estimates were of “millions of dollars of losses.”
Large parts of Herat were without power yesterday. Islam Qala is one of the major ports in Afghanistan, through which most official trade with Iran is conducted. Afghanistan has received waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran, despite US sanctions.
Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the border “was held open for trucks, cars and people running from the fire” toward Iran.
Afghan authorities called on Iran for help after saying it did not have the required resources to tackle the blaze alone.
Fire services from both countries were at the scene extinguishing small fires that still remain, Farhad said.
He added that Taliban insurgents attacked a nearby security post shortly after the blaze broke out.
Security forces have been deployed around the port to prevent any looting.
Afghanistan has been hit by a surge in violence, despite peace talks that started in September last year between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.
The rise in violence has led US President Joe Biden’s administration to launch a review of a deal signed between Washington and the Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of all US troops in the coming months.
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