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FRANCE

French chemical plant blaze may have been deliberate

One of the fires at the petrochemical facility owned by American firm LyondellBasell at the refineries around the Etang de Berre, near Marseille,
One of the fires at the petrochemical facility owned by American firm LyondellBasell at the refineries around the Etang de Berre, near Marseille, Reuters/Philippe Laurenson

French investigators believe two fires that closed a chemical plant in the south of the country on Tuesday may have been started deliberately. Two storage tanks exploded overnight and one was still burning mid-morning.

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The two tanks exploded at 3.00am, belching flames and thick, black smoke into the sky above the lake where the plant is situated.

They were 500 metres apart, leading investigators to suspect arson since they consider it very unlikely that they caught fire "practically simultaneously", as several witnesses said Tuesday, by accident.

The plant, owned by American multinational LyondellBasell, is near Marseille-Marignane airport and the A7 motorway, whose Rognac exit was closed by police.

Some 120 firefighters and 50 fire engines were sent to fight the blazes and one had been put out by mid-morning Tuesday.

The fire at the other tank, which contained 40,000 cubic metres of fuel, was put out at about midday.

No-one was injured.

There was a fire at a nearby refinery, also owned by LyondellBasell, in 2011 but that was believed to have been caused by a leak.

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