Several persons (majorly youths) are feared dead earlier today, Saturday, as fire engulfed an illegal crude oil refining site at Abaezi forest, in Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State.
The victims were burnt beyond recognition.
While some reports say about 100 people died, this newspaper cannot ascertain the actual casualty figure.
Although local authorities have started a crackdown to try put a stop to illegal refining of stolen crude in southern Nigeria, the theft has not stopped.
High unemployment in the region has made illegal crude refining an attractive business. It involves illegal tapping of crude from a maze of pipelines owned by oil majors and burning it at high temperature in makeshift tanks.
The hazardous process adds another layer of pollution in a region that has endured oil spills for decades and destroyed farmlands, creeks and lagoons.
Some environmental groups are pushing the government to fund small refineries, which are cheaper and simple to run, hoping to create jobs and end illegal refining of oil.