ANTARCTIC STATION COMANDANTE FERRAZ – A fire in the Brazilian military research base in Antarctica has wounded two and one is missing. According to the Brazilian Navy, the fire broke out early Saturday morning.
Preliminary information indicates that the fire began in the power generating room and caused an explosion. The fire has not been extinguished and destroyed the entire 2,600 m2 (28,000 square foot) station.
The base station, which opened in 1984, included well-equipped scientific laboratories, dormitories, a commercial kitchen, library, workshops and facilities to maintain vessels and vehicles used on expeditions.
The Navy said in a statement, that it is “extremely dismayed” by what has happened. Just last month, the station began generating electricity using ethanol fuel – the first nation to begin using biofuel on the continent. For the first year, the ethanol generators were to be used in tandem with the existing diesel generators.
The injured were evacuated to the Chilean base Eduardo Frei. Members of the Base Group (Sailors responsible for the maintenance and operation of the station) remain and are fighting the fire.
Two Argentine Navy boats and two Polish boats are near the base supporting the firefighting actions. In addition, three helicopters from the Chilean base are providing help. The Brazilian Navy vessel Almirante Maximiano has departed to the scene.
The 30 researchers, a climber who provides support to research activities and a representative of the Ministry of the Environment, which were at the station when the accident occurred, were transferred by helicopter to the Chilean base Eduardo Frei. From there, they will be taken by the Argentine Air Force to the city of Punta Arenas, Chile.
Remaining at the station are the Base Group, 12 employees of the Navy of Rio de Janeiro.
A military police investigation was initiated to investigate the causes of the accident.
A Brazilian navy vessel sank in Antarctica in December, with 10,000 liters of oil. The fuel has not leaked, but is on the seabed. The ship was carrying oil for refueling the Comandante Ferraz station. The Navy is trying to solve that problem before it becomes a major environmental accident.
According to coolantarctica.com, “The first recorded fire in Antarctica happened during the 1898-1900 British Antarctic Expedition led by Carsten E. Borchgrevink, aboard the Southern Cross. A member of the expedition set fire to his mattress during the winter nearly burning down the hut. If this had happened it could have led to the death of all members of the expedition with the loss of supplies and shelter.”