Indonesian oil well fire kills 18 people, injures dozens

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Burnt-out motorbikes are seen near a burning oil well after it caught fire in Pasir Putih village in eastern Aceh, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 25. (AP Photo/Zik Maulana)
Burnt-out motorbikes are seen near a burning oil well after it caught fire in Pasir Putih village in eastern Aceh, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 25. (AP Photo/Zik Maulana)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — A newly drilled unregulated oil well in western Indonesia exploded into flames early Wednesday, burning 18 people to death and injuring dozens of others.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the well in Pasir Putih village in eastern Aceh province ignited at about 1:30 a.m. and firefighters were still struggling to extinguish the flames late in the afternoon. Five nearby houses were engulfed by the inferno.

Sutopo said the 250-meter (820-foot) -deep well was gushing when it ignited and many people were nearby trying to collect the oil. He said 41 people had been admitted to three hospitals.

“I woke up when a very loud explosion shook our house like an earthquake,” said 16-year-old Riska Sri Maulidyawati. “All our neighbors ran out to see what happened, but another loud explosion made everyone run away in panic.”

“Everyone was shouting ‘Fire! Fire!’ I also heard people screaming in pain and asking for help,” Maulidyawati said. “Children were crying and women shouting in panic. It was really scary for me.”

Edi Gunawan, director of a local hospital, told Indonesian television that those hospitalized had burns over 20 to 60 percent of their bodies.

Several people with serious injuries were transferred to a larger hospital, he said.

The disaster agency described the well as “traditional,” likely meaning it had unclear ownership and was used by the local community.

Aceh, at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, has significant commercially untapped natural gas reserves and is dotted with illegal wells.

Maulidyawati said many people had come to the village in recent days to collect oil from the newly drilled well.

“We fled to my relative’s house away from the fire location. We would not dare to return because the fire is not extinguished yet and we afraid of more explosions,” she said.