On Thursday, June 3, Iran’s state-run radio and TV reported that a new explosion had rocked the Tondgouyan Refinery south of Tehran, with fire engulfing much of the installation.
But Shaker Khafaei, the refinery’s director of public relations, then denied the report and said instead that foreign “anti-revolutionary media” had fabricated the news.
Since Wednesday, when a dark column of smoke rose over southern Tehran, there have thus been conflicting reports about the cause of the fire and its severity. Images of thick plumes of black smoke were first posted on social media and then official Iranian news agencies reported a fire had at Tondgouyan.
Quoting firefighters, a reporter for the Young Journalists Club reported that 18 storage tanks on the site had caught and were catching fire one after another because of the large extent of the fire.
The fire at the refinery was reported just a few hours after Iran’s largest warship caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman. The timing, and in light of several explosions at nuclear installations within the past year, social networks were rife with speculation about possible weaknesses in the security systems, infiltration by foreign agents or sabotage. Officials at the refinery meanwhile denied any such thing.
In public statements Hamed Armanfar, CEO of the refinery, and head of PR Shaker Khafaei dismissed the possibility of sabotage. On Thursday, just as Iranian media were reporting that the fire had spread to other parts of refinery, Khafaei took a step further and called the news “fake”, pointing the finger at “anti-revolutionary media” and pointed finger at “anti-revolutionary media” for spreading lies, even though the explosion had first been reported by a reporter at Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
Khafaei said: “The sound comes from the layers inside the tanks that are falling after their content is burned out, and it has nothing to do with any explosion. We cannot extinguish fires involving compounds such as gasoline; we can only contain them until they completely burn out.” Earlier, he had told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) that the fire had started in a storage tank of 20,000 barrels of petroleum waste.
However, the Iranian Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, who then paid an overnight visit to the refinery had a different explanation. He said the fire broke out over a leak in two waste tanks and had not affected the production process. He also told IRNA News Agency: “a lot of smoke does not mean that something important has happened.”
A firefighter who works for a large car manufacturer in Tehran, and asked not to be named, told IranWire: “Mr. Khafaei might be correct. But repeat explosions are also likely while oil and gas products are burning.
“According to him, the fire broke out in a storage tank of 20,000 barrels of petroleum waste. But he doesn’t say why. Refineries take very strict safety precautions; a fire at a refinery can only occur due to negligence – or because of something reminiscent of the explosion at Natanz.
“Why are people talking about sabotage? Because they haven’t said why the fire started. Exactly like at Natanz, when they wouldn’t tell people the cause of the explosion.”
The explosion at the Iranian Centrifuge Assembly Center, which is located in a warehouse near the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, took place at midnight on July 2, 2020. Several conflicting explanations were put forward; weeks after the incident, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee announced that there had been “a breach of security.” Media outside of Iran speculated on whether the explosion was caused by a bomb planted by Israeli agents.
Quoting firefighters, Iran’s official news agencies are now saying that the Tondgouyan fire will be extinguished today.