At least 18 people, including a pregnant woman, have died in southern Nigeria when an illegal oil refinery exploded into flames, a security official and residents said.

The blaze took place early on Monday in Rivers State’s Emohua district when a homemade refinery ignited a nearby oil reservoir, leaving victims severely burned, according to a report by AFP news agency on Tuesday.

“The fire outbreak started at a very late hour … 18 victims were burnt beyond recognition while 25 injured persons were rescued,” said Olufemi Ayodele, spokesman for the local Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.

“Most of the victims were youths … a pregnant woman and a young lady getting ready for her marriage ceremony next month were all casualties,” he said.

In another report, the Reuters news agency, citing a local Ibaa community leader, said as many as 37 people died in the blaze. “Thirty-five people were caught in the fire. 

Two people who were lucky to escape also died this morning [Tuesday] in hospital,” Rufus Welekem, the head of security in the community, told Reuters.

Illegal refining is common in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria as impoverished locals tap pipelines to make fuel to sell for a profit. 

The practice, which can be as basic as boiling crude oil in drums to extract fuel, is often deadly.

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