A source told the RFA’s Korean Service the huge plumes of black smoke were a result of cooking oil igniting and going up in flames. Five of the train’s 15 cars were loaded with soybean oil, which is already in extremely short supply in North Korea. People across the Yalu river border in Dandong, China reported seeing the large plumes of smoke rising from the city.
One resident told RFA’s Korea Service on the condition of anonymity: “Here in Dandong, we could see the black smoke rising more than 100 meters (100 yards) at about 11 a.m. yesterday, near Gangan Station in Sinuiju across the river.
“People from Dandong who were walking along the Yalu stopped in their tracks, wondering what was going on in Sinuiju.
“A Chinese citizen resident of Sinuiju confirmed that the smoke was caused by a fire at the station.”
The fire “burned a freight train that had arrived at the station after carrying a full load of cargo from Dandong”.
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The international market price of one ton of soybean oil is around US $ 800 (£634), meaning the cooking oil alone could have been worth up to $ 200,000 (£158,000).
The source added: “If you consider that a single freight car can carry 50 tons, then it means 250 tons of soybean oil was totally burned, causing the huge amount of smoke.
“The other 10 cars that were carrying foods such as flour have all been completely burned too.”
Another Dandong resident told RFA someone in Sinuiju who witnessed the fire claimed firefighters struggled to bring the blaze under control because of an empty fire extinguisher.
The source said: “Gangan Station was equipped with a foam fire extinguisher, but people over there say that their initial effort to stop the fire failed because the extinguisher was empty. It did not contain any foam fluid.
“They also say that no one could get close to the burning train because of all the smoke, caused by the burning soybean oil, which went up only a few minutes after the fire started.
“So the people at the station who trying to extinguish the fire had no choice but to watch for an hour and a half while all the other valuable cargo stored in the station’s warehouse was burned down.”
The source told RTA trains from from Dandong don’t normally stop at Gangan Station after passing through customs.
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They added: “Instead of departing immediately for Pyongyang, they have to disinfect trains and quarantine the cargo for a certain amount of time to prevent coronavirus from spreading.
“The cause of the fire, whether there were any casualties, and how much damage was caused by the fire has yet to be determined.
Sinuiju is North Korea’s sixth largest city, with a population of around 360,000 people.
The city faces Dandong in China, across the international border of the Amnok River, and is the capital of North P’yŏngan province.
The huge fire seen in China is the latest humiliation for Kim Jong-un, after he sacked health officials over failures to respond to the coronavirus crisis in North Korea – despite repeatedly insisting his secretive state is free of the killer disease.
The claims from a leaked report will come as an embarrassment to the country’s leader, who has refused to admit his kingdom has been hit by COVID-19.
In April, Pak Myong Su, director of the anti-epidemic department of North Korea’s Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters, bragged “not a single person was infected” with coronavirus in the nation because of it’s “preemptive measures.”