The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lightning ignites petrol inferno

Rajbandh/Calcutta, June 3: A fire, triggered by a bolt of lightning, engulfed a storage tank containing 4,000 kilolitres of petrol at the Rajbandh installation of the Indian Oil Corporation in Burdwan this evening.

Sixty fire engines — from Burdwan, Bankura and Purulia, the Central Industrial Security Force, the army and the air force — rushed to the installation off the Durgapur Expressway, 140 km from Calcutta.

Evacuation of people from neighbouring areas began late in the night. Policemen went around in jeeps, microphones in hand, urging people to vacate their houses as soon as possible. Some people were seen heeding the advice to head for safety. Earlier in the evening, crowds of gawkers had swarmed near the site, causing chaos.

IOC spokesperson in Calcutta S.K. Tripathi said one of the 20 storage tanks at the installation caught fire around 6.15 pm after it was struck by lightning.

“The tank contained 4,000 kilolitres of petrol worth Rs 12 crore,” he said.

Firefighters said the blaze cannot be put out. “We are only taking controlling and cooling measures in order to prevent the tank from exploding. We are keeping our fingers crossed. If the tank explodes, the consequences will be disastrous,” said S.. Roy Chowdhury, divisional fire officer (G division), Rajbandh.

An IOC official claimed that 2,000 kilolitres of petrol had been pumped out of the tank. “We are trying our level best to pump out more fuel. The temperature is rising and any disaster can take place any moment,” he said. “If everything goes well, it will take more than 10 hours to control the blaze.”

Firefighters were finding the going tough because of shortage of foam. But IOC officials said large quantities of foam were on their way from Mourigram, Bakreshwar and Dhanbad.

The officials said the first task was to empty the storage tanks close to the one on fire. The 20 tanks contain about 88,000 kilolitres of fuel, including petrol, diesel, furnace oil, aviation turbine fuel and kerosene. “A railway rake loaded with various kinds of fuel was inside the installation when the fire broke out. But it was removed in time,” Tripathi said.

Thousands of local residents rushed to the site as soon as news of the blaze spread, resulting in chaos on the Durgapur Expressway (a part of National Highway-2). Jawans of the CISF and the Rapid Action Force and police had to be called in to control the crowd. Police and IOC officials went out in jeeps, urging people — some had climbed trees for a better view — to stay away as they were coming in the way of firefighting.

Two senior officials — deputy general manager (operations) Gautam Bose and senior safety manager S.K. Mullick — left for Rajbandh tonight from Calcutta.

Tripathi said no one has been injured in the blaze.

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