The blaze broke out at one of Total's oil refineries near the port city of Le Havre, northwestern France, at 4am said officials at the prefecture of the Seine-Maritime region.
By dawn, smoke was pouring out across the region reaching as far as 10 kilometres (six miles) away. About 50 firefighters worked to bring the blaze under control.
A smell of hot tar hung over the zone, an AFP photographer noted, and although tests for air pollution near the plant were negative, for a few hours the prefecture advised residents to stay indoors.
In a statement they said a pump fault appeared to have caused the fire.
Total confirmed in its statement that the fire appeared to have been caused at a feed pump.
Nobody had been injured and all those at the site, which employs around 1,500 people, had been accounted for, it added.
But the incident comes only a day after safety officials approved the partial reopening of a factory in the northwest city of Rouen — which suffered a fire last September — over the objections of some local officials.
The blaze at the plant in Rouen on September 26 sent billowing clouds of soot as far as 22 kilometres away, prompting evacuations and school closures over potential health risks.
Both the factory at Rouen and the refinery near Le Havre are classified high-risk on the Seveso scale measuring industrial risk.
Tests for air pollution near the plant were negative but the prefecture advised residents to stay indoors.
Total said in a statement that no one was injured and that all those at the site, which employs around 1,500 people, have been accounted for.