ISLAM QALA, Afghanistan: At least 100 oil and gas tankers have been destroyed by fire in a “catastrophe” at Afghanistan’s biggest trade crossing with Iran, causing millions of dollars of losses, officials said Sunday.
The huge blaze, which broke out Saturday afternoon at Islam Qala port 120 km from the western city of Herat, has been contained and an investigation launched into its cause.
“We were told that 100 or 200 tankers have been destroyed, but this number could be higher,” Jailani Farhad, spokesman for the governor of Herat province, said after visiting the scene.
During the blaze looters descended on the site, stealing goods that were being imported and exported across the border, Younus Qazi Zada, the head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce said.
“The catastrophe was much bigger than imagined,” he said, adding “Unfortunately, irresponsible people have looted a large number of goods.”
Qazi Zada said initial estimates were of “millions of dollars of losses.”
Farhad added that investigators needed more time to examine the extent of damage.
Videos posted on social media on Saturday night showed the towering fire and huge clouds of thick black smoke billowing into the sky.
On Sunday, security forces opened fire on a vehicle, killing one man, after the driver failed to stop at a checkpost that had been hastily set up to prevent suspected looters from entering what was left of the customs office compound.
An AFP photographer said hundreds of people had gathered at the site, trying to get access to the trucks. Around 20 people were injured in the fire, according to Herat health officials.
The Finance Ministry said early findings suggested the blaze started in a tanker before quickly spreading and causing “heavy financial losses” — including fuel, tankers and customs facilities.
Damage to power lines from the incident left large parts of Herat province without power on Sunday.
Islam Qala is one of the major ports in Afghanistan, through which most official trade with Iran is conducted.
Kabul has waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran despite US sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the border “was held open for trucks, cars and people running from the fire.”
Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh said hundreds of trucks were allowed to enter Iran to escape the fire.