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Rio de Janeiro - A thick river of caramel is threatening to swamp a town in Sao Paulo state in southern Brazil after a fire in a warehouse melted more than 30 000 tons of sugar.
The blaze comes just days after a large fire in the port of Santos, also in the state, destroyed six warehouses leased by Copersucar, the largest exporter of sugar and ethanol in Brazil.
The fire, which erupted on Friday, began after a spark from machinery ignited sugar stored in the depot owned by Agrovia Sugar Company.
Firefighters tackling the blaze on the industrial site in the town of Santa Adelia struggled for more than 75 hours to bring the flames under control. As the fire swept through the building, melted molasses poured into the streets towards homes. Nearly 20 residents were moved into hotels as four were reported to have been injured.
“The fire consumed the entire warehouse and firefighting teams worked to isolate a second depot by cooling the walls,” Guilherme Raposo, the chief executive of Agrovia, said.
Recent reports indicate the fire is now under control but there are still fears the high temperatures could bring down the warehouse.
Barriers of earth were piled in front of houses to try to prevent the syrupy liquid from engulfing them. Emergency services were still battling against a steady tide of heavy caramel after four days and large suctioning machinery was being used to siphon up the thick liquid. Tractors and JCB diggers were scooping up the sugary substance, a ditch was dug around the affected area to channel the flow and barriers were installed in an attempt to reduce contamination to the river.
“I am really worried about my home being invaded with this mess,” Augusto Costa, a builder, said.
“The liquid is already around my house and I don't know how bad it's going to get.”
According to Jose Ferreira de Andrade, an engineer from the Environmental, Sanitation and Technology Company for Sao Paulo, the flood of caramel has already polluted the river Sao Domingos, killing fish. “On Tuesday, oxygen levels in the water were zero,” Mr Andrade said. “The product is not toxic, but because of its density it depletes the oxygen. So far we have already collected over 15kg of dead fish.
“The sugar did not belong to Agrovia, but it is still our responsibility,” Mr Raposa said. The loss of this volume of sugar represented approximately $130m (£81m), according to market analysts.
The Agrovia plant, located 280 miles from the port of Santos, supplies 20 percent of sugar to the state of Sao Paulo and exports 1.7 million tons worldwide. The blaze is likely to push up sugar prices again. Following the fire in Santos that destroyed 180 000 tons of sugar on 18 October, sugar prices rose by 2.63 percent. Brazil is the largest producer in the world. This year through to September, Brazil exported 13 million tons of sugar. - The Independent