October 30, 2009 / 7:55 PM / 8 years ago

Fuel leak caused Puerto Rican depot blast: FBI

SAN JUAN (Reuters) - A fuel leak created a vapor cloud that caused last week’s explosion and massive fire at a Puerto Rican fuel storage depot, according to federal investigators who ruled out arson or sabotage on Friday.

<p>Caribbean Petroleum Corp's refinery and tank farm is engulfed in flames behind the entrance to the facility in Catano, Puerto Rico, early October 23, 2009. REUTERS/Ana Martinez</p>

The fire raged for more than two days at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp., or Capeco, storage facility in Bayamon, near the Caribbean island’s capital of San Juan.

“The Capeco explosion was not the result of a criminal act or sabotage,” said FBI Special Agent In Charge Luis Fraticelli. “There was a gas leak which created a huge cloud over the Capeco site.”

Fuel leaked out while one of the huge storage tanks was being filled, creating a vapor cloud, officials said. The gases were ignited by an unidentified energy source, possibly from a water treatment plant at the site, they said.

Fraticelli said it was too early to know whether negligence, such as a lack of maintenance or lax procedures, was involved. “It would be irresponsible for me to comment on that now because the investigation continues,” he said.

Federal authorities made the announcement after completing the first phase of their investigation and interviewing 105 people.

Two people were hurt and more than 1,000 people were evacuated from neighborhoods around the blaze, which spewed a towering column of toxic smoke into the air. The fire destroyed nearly half the storage facility’s 40 tanks, which contained a variety of oil products from gasoline to jet fuel.

Editing by Jane Sutton and Todd Eastham

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