Venezuela's oil minister said Thursday that a fire at the El Palito refinery is under control and that the plant is operating normally.

"That fire is controlled. It's confined. We're putting it out," Rafael Ramirez, who is also president of state oil company PDVSA, told state television.

The fire broke out Wednesday after lightning struck two fuel storage tanks at the refinery in northwestern Venezuela during what the minister described as a "big electrical storm."

Ramirez said a blaze that had affected one fuel tank has been extinguished and that work now is focused on a second burning tank with a 170,000-barrel capacity.

The fire at El Palito occurred less than a month after a gas explosion at the Amuay refinery - also in northwestern Venezuela and the country's largest - killed 42 people, triggered a raging fire lasting several days and destroyed nearby homes.

"It's a completely different situation, diametrically opposed to the situation at Amuay. This is clearly an accident" caused by the storm, the official said, alluding to the Aug. 25 explosion at the Paraguana Refinery Complex in Falcon state.

Ramirez said "there's no risk whatsoever" to nearby communities and stressed that "none of the refinery's processing areas has been shut down."

"The refinery is processing its 135,000 barrels per day. We're in normal operations and concentrating our equipment on extinguishing this fire that regrettably occurred," he said.

"We're calling for calm," Ramirez said, insisting that the country has "sufficient fuel" and "sufficient inventories."

El Palito - located in Puerto Cabello, a city in Carabobo state - has the capacity to process 135,000 barrels of crude daily, part of it destined for the domestic market and the rest for export. EFE