A massive gasoline tank at a Haifa refinery caught fire on Sunday, sending bright orange flames and thick black smoke billowing into the air above the large bay city and threatening other installations at a massive industrial complex.
Police briefly closed main arteries near the Haifa industrial zone as dozens of firefighting teams attempted to keep the flames under the control.
“It is a very serious incident. Our main aim at the moment is to stop the fire spreading to other tanks that contain dangerous material,” Haifa fire services spokesman Yoram Levy told the Ynet news site.
Levy said the tank held 1,000 cubic liters of gasoline and more than 40 firefighting teams were being sent to try and contain the blaze.
It was not immediately clear how the fire started.
Officials said a larger disaster was avoided as the tank, with a capacity of 10,000 cubic liters, was relatively empty.
As thick black smoked filled the air above the city, many residents reported breathing difficulties, though rescue officials did not say anyone needed treatment.
The Haifa bay area, hemmed in by the Carmel Mountains, is home to some of the heaviest industry in the country, and residents there have long feared an incident that could endanger the northern port city.
There have also been complaints of health issues and severe pollution.
The fire comes weeks after the city was ravaged by a series of wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and caused tens of thousands to evacuate.
The city was also hit by heavy flooding earlier this month that killed one person.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said the municipality has repeatedly warned the government about the danger posed by the refinery and the area’s massive ammonia storage tank, which have been threatened as targets by the Hezbollah terror group.
“We have repeatedly warned; we are tired of warning. This is just a small indication (of what could happen) but it is a wake-up call to the government of Israel,” he told Army Radio.
MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List Knesset faction, wrote on Twitter that the government should take action to fight the problems plaguing his hometown.
“And doing something does not mean blaming the Arabs in the media again,” he wrote sarcastically, referring to accusations that the Haifa fires had been started as nationalistically motivated arson attacks.
Recently, Haifa City Hall has tried to temporarily shut down the Carmel Olefins refinery after a series of mishaps in which dangerous pollutants were accidentally released into the air.
Several studies have indicated that Haifa residents suffer from a slew of health-related problems, including higher rates of cancer and pollution-related disorders such as smaller-than-average heads and relatively low weight in newborns.