1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Mexico: Deadly blaze at illegal fuel pipeline

January 19, 2019

Hundreds of people were near a pipeline when it exploded, leaving 79 dead and 81 injured. Dozens of Mexican states have experienced fuel shortages since President Lopez Obrador shut down pipelines to curb fuel theft.

A soldier stands by as a field is engulfed in flames in Hidalgo, Mexico
Image: Reuters/National Defence Secretary

A leaking pipeline in central Mexico sparked a large blaze that killed at least 79 people and injured 81 others, Mexican Health Minister Jorge Alcocer said on Sunday. Some patients were in a serious condition, with burns on more than 80 percent of their bodies. 

The fire ignited Friday afternoon after an illegal tap was drilled into the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline, which belongs to state oil company PEMEX.

Locals were attempting to collect the fuel with buckets when the massive fire erupted in the small town of Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Mexico City.

Footage from Mexican television earlier in the day showed what appeared to be gasoline spouting dozens of feet into the air and people approaching it with containers.

Mayor Juan Pedro Cruz told Mexican media that the fuel spill took place around 5 p.m. local time (2300 UTC). He said members of the army arrived at the scene and cordoned off the area, but were ultimately unable to stop some 200 people who broke through to reach the fuel.

Read more: 'Migrant caravan was my only chance' for a better life

Government takes on gas thieves

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador expressed his concern about the incident in Hidalgo on Twitter, saying he wanted "the entire government" to help people at the scene. The Mexican president also said that he was in contact with local authorities and that he had instructed them to gain control of the fire and help the victims.

Lopez Obrador had recently launched a major offensive to crack down on rampant fuel theft in the country.

The government estimates that PEMEX has lost $3 billion (€2.6 billion) annually from fuel theft. In the first 10 months of 2018, thieves drilled 12,581 illegal taps.

To mitigate the problem, the Mexican government had shut down several major pipelines and ordered fuel to be transported in tanker trucks.

As a result of Lopez Obrador's new measures, a dozen Mexican states have experienced fuel shortages in the past 15 days, leading to long waiting lines for consumers at gas stations.

Read more: Mexicans: Dying for justice

jcg/sms (EFE, AP, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.