Chemical plant fire breaks out in northern France

Caen (France) (AFP) –


Black smoke billowed over the northern French town of Rouen on Thursday after a spectacular fire broke out at a chemical factory, leading authorities to close schools and recommend people nearby stay in their homes.

Two hundred firefighters and sixty fire vehicles were battling the blaze which broke out early Thursday at a storage facility owned by a manufacturer of industrial lubricants and fuel additives.

"Let's not panic about this situation, but we need to be very careful," Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told RTL radio, adding that "there is nothing to make us believe there is a risk from the smoke."

Schools and creches nearby would remain shut, he said, while local authorities have asked people living near the factory to stay at home and everyone else to avoid unnecessary journeys.

The factory on the edge of the river Seine in Rouen belongs to US multinational Lubrizol, which is owned by billionaire American investor Warren Buffett.

In January 2013, it was responsible for a giant leak of the gas mercaptan, which smells like cabbage or rotten eggs.

It blew all the way to Paris and across the Channel into southern England where residents complained about the odour.

In 2015, 2,000 litres of mineral oil, which is used in lubricants, leaked into the local sewer system in Rouen, which is famed for its cathedral.