PARIS - An immense mass of black smoke is rising over Normandy as firefighters battle a blaze Thursday at a chemical plant, and authorities closed schools in 11 surrounding towns and asked residents to stay indoors.
The fire poses a pollution risk for the nearby Seine River, the government’s top official for the region said Thursday, according to the French news service AFP.
“We’re still fighting the blaze, with the risk that pollution could spill into the Seine if retention ponds overflow,” Pierre-Andre Durand told journalists.
No injuries have been reported and French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on RTL radio “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 about 200 firefighters work to extinguish the fire.
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. The Interior Ministry tweeted that schools and nurseries in the area have been closed, and residents in nursing homes are being confined.
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 midmorning, with bursts of flames still visible as sirens sounded over and over.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
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.
It is among many industrial sites around Europe required to have additional security measures it handles dangerous substances.