Blaze at French chemical factory extinguished – but pungent smell hangs over town

Firefighters have extinguished a huge blaze that broke out at a chemical factory in northern France and forced authorities to close schools and warn of pollution risks for the Seine river, local authorities said on Friday.

Blaze at French chemical factory extinguished - but pungent smell hangs over town
Residents in Rouen have been wearing masks against the smell and pollution from the blaze. Photo: AFP

But although the flames are now out, there now hangs over Rouen what authorities describe as an “unpleasant odour”.

The préfecture of Seine-Maritime said on Friday morning: “Following the fire that broke out within the Lubrizol factory, the firefighting operation generated a characteristic smell. During this phenomenon, the emergency services received a significant number of calls.

READ ALSO French chemical factory explosion: What you need to know

The fire broke out in the early hours of Thursday morning. Photo: AFP/Jocelyn Moras

“It is important not to overload the emergency services with this odour problem. However, for people who are frail and who may need it, they must naturally consult a doctor.
“Despite an unpleasant odour, the risk to the population remains low.”
The fire erupted in the early hours of Thursday at a storage facility near the city of Rouen owned by Lubrizol, a manufacturer of industrial lubricants and fuel additives which is owned by the billionaire American investor Warren Buffett.
The site is classified as Seveso, meaning it is high risk because of the toxic nature of the chemicals that it produces.

No injuries were reported in the blaze, which sent acrid black smoke billowing over some 22 kilometres.

Emergency services have received dozens of calls from people concerned about the smell. Photo: AFP

A total of 240 firefighters battled the flames for over 24 hours before bringing it under control.

“The fire is out… we are keeping manpower at the site to continue the cooling of all drums,” Chris Chislard, a spokesman for the regional fire
service, said.

For the people of Rouen, now the clean-up operation begins as large parts of the town are blanketed in soot and ash.

Local authorities have advised people to

– avoid skin contact with soot
– clean premises, windows, outdoor furniture and the surroundings (courtyards, gardens) only with water
– do not use a high-pressure cleaner that can suspend particles
– do not perform dry sweeping
– do not use a vacuum cleaner
– when cleaning, protect the skin by wearing household gloves
– do not consume plants soiled by soot and wash your hands in case of contact

Member comments

  1. So every crop within a 20k radius is worthless and needs to be destroyed lest it enter the food chain?
    Or will acid rain be enough to clean it?

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Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/
But while the map – created by – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.

Here are some of the key points.
1. Everyone hates Parisians
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
2. Staycations rule
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
3. Northerners like a drink
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
4. Poverty
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
5. Southern prejudice
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
For more maps that reflect France, head to