Fire breaks out at French chemical plant, schools closed
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A huge fire at a Normandy chemical plant spewed a mass of black smoke over a wide region Thursday, prompting French authorities to shut down roads and schools and order people to stay indoors as firefighters battled for hours to contain it.
No injuries have been reported in the blaze, and the cause is under investigation. The Interior Ministry said the fire was under control by early afternoon, about 12 hours after it broke out, but not yet extinguished.
The Lubrizol plant in the medieval city of Rouen is among the highest-risk industrial sites in Europe, part of a system called Seveso that requires such facilities to have additional security measures because they handle dangerous substances.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner rushed to the site. He said on RTL radio that "there is no element that could lead us to believe that the smoke is dangerous," but authorities are taking precautionary measures and carrying out air quality tests as around 200 firefighters worked to stop the blaze.
The administration for the Seine-Maritime region urged people to avoid non-essential travel in the area after the fire alarm rang at the Lubrizol plant in Rouen early Thursday. Residents in nearby nursing homes were confined.
Authorities closed schools in 11 surrounding towns and asked residents within a 500-meter (550-yard) perimeter to stay indoors.
The fire spread to two neighboring companies, according to the administration for the Nord region. It warned of a "strong, nauseating odor" produced by the smoke but said "no heightened toxicity" was immediately measured in the air.
The plant produces additives for lubricants and paint, and pledges on its website "to lead all activities in full security for people and goods while preserving the natural environment." The company didn't comment on the fire.
Images showed bursts of orange flames and the sounds of repeated explosions from the plant overnight. The site was still spewing huge plumes of black smoke after dawn, with bursts of flames still visible as sirens sounded over and over.