BRASILIA (Reuters) – A fire broke out at Brazil’s research station in Antarctica yesterday, killing two navy personnel and forcing the evacuation by helicopter of about 40 other people, the government said.
A third navy member was injured but stable after the fire, which broke out in a building housing power generators at the Comandante Ferraz base, the navy said in a statement. It said those evacuated had been flown to Chile’s Antarctica station.
President Dilma Rousseff in a statement offered condolences to the families of the two victims identified as Carlos Alberto Vieira Figueiredo and First Sergeant Roberto Lopes dos Santos and praised the efforts to bring the blaze under control. There was no immediate word on what might have caused the fire.
She said Brazil was also determined to rebuild the base, which is on the continent’s King George Island. She called Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to thank him for his country’s assistance in the face of the emergency.
Several South American countries have bases in Antarctica where they carry out scientific research, despite concerns among environmentalists over the risks of human activity on the planet’s least populated and most pristine continent. Brazil has had a base in Antarctica since 1984.
The group evacuated from the base would be flown to Punta Arenas in Chile by the Argentine air force, and then back to Brazil in a Brazilian air force plane, Brazil’s navy said.
The head of the base and a handful of military personnel who stayed behind to combat the blaze had to be evacuated later to the Chilean base due to bad weather. They will return to evaluate the damage when the weather improves, the navy said.
Diesel cargo sinks
The navy also confirmed yesterday that a barge shuttling diesel to the base sank in a storm and that a ship was being sent to recover the apparently intact vessel and the fuel. The navy said the fuel had not leaked.
Brazilian newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo said the barge sank in December. The navy press office said it was not immediately able to confirm that information.
The navy statement said the barge sank to a depth of 130 feet (40 metres) while being towed to shore with its cargo of 2,600 gallons (10,000 liters), equivalent to 63 barrels. No one was aboard the barge when it sank.
The barge is about 1,000 yards (metres) from the shore where Brazil’s Comandante Ferraz Antarctica Station is located.
A special ship chartered by Brazilian state-controlled oil company Petrobras will reach the site next week to attempt to haul the barge to the surface with the use of a crane and inflatable bags to be attached to the barge
The navy said the fuel was “Arctic Diesel” adapted for freezing Antarctic conditions.