A fire at a train station in the North Korean city of Sinuiju destroyed a freight train carrying hundreds of tons of cooking oil from China and a warehouse full of cargo, witnesses who watched the blaze from across the Chinese border told RFA Friday.
People in Dandong, China, across the Yalu river border from Sinuiju reported seeing large columns of smoke rising from the city Thursday morning local time. There has been no word on casualties or the cause of the fire.
“Here in Dandong, we could see the black smoke rising more than 100 meters (100 yards) at about 11 a.m. yesterday, near Gangan Station in Sinuiju across the river,” a resident of Dandong told RFA’s Korea Service. The station is 1.8 km (1.1 mile) from the Yalu river and visible from Dandong on clear days.
“People from Dandong who were walking along the Yalu stopped in their tracks, wondering what was going on in Sinuiju,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“A Chinese citizen resident of Sinuiju confirmed that the smoke was caused by a fire at the station,” said the source, adding, “the fire burned a freight train that had arrived at the station after carrying a full load of cargo from Dandong.”
According to the source, the black smoke was a result of cooking oil going up in flames. Five of the train’s 15 cars were loaded with soybean oil, which is in short supply in North Korea.
“If you consider that a single freight car can carry 50 tons, then it means 250 tons of soybean oil was totally burned, causing the huge amount of smoke. The other 10 cars that were carrying foods such as flour have all been completely burned too,” the source said.
The international market price of one ton of soybean oil is estimated to be around U.S. $800. If the source’s estimate is accurate, the cooking oil alone was worth $200,000.
Another resident of Dandong, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA that an acquaintance in Sinuiju who witnessed the fire said firefighters struggled to deal with the situation.
“Gangan Station was equipped with a foam fire extinguisher, but people over there say that their initial effort to stop the fire failed because the extinguisher was empty. It did not contain any foam fluid,” the source said.
“They also say that no one could get close to the burning train because of all the smoke, caused by the burning soybean oil, which went up only a few minutes after the fire started,” said the source.
“So the people at the station who trying to extinguish the fire had no choice but to watch for an hour and a half while all the other valuable cargo stored in the station’s warehouse was burned down,” said the source.
According to the second source, trains from Dandong don’t normally stop at Gangan Station after passing through customs.
“Instead of departing immediately for Pyongyang, they have to disinfect trains and quarantine the cargo for a certain amount of time to prevent coronavirus from spreading,” said the second source.
“The cause of the fire, whether there were any casualties, and how much damage was caused by the fire has yet to be determined,” the second source said.
Sinuiju is North Korea’s sixth largest city, with a population of 360,000 people.
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.