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Collapse fear after oil fire
Smoke billows out of the Indian Oil installation near Durgapur. Picture by Amit Datta

Rajbandh, June 4: Twenty-four hours after a huge fire broke out in the storage tank loaded with petrol at the Indian Oil Corporation installation near Durgapur, thick smoke billowed out, enveloping Rajbandh town. Firefighters continued their battle to save the installation from imminent disaster.

By late this evening, the fire brigade’s worry had shifted from the possibility of an explosion to that of the platform holding the tank collapsing in the extreme heat.

“The towering inferno has been brought under control, but the tank and the platform holding it have become extremely hot after the fuel inside burned for over 24 hours. There is a chance it might collapse,” director of fire services B.M. Sen said.

Realising that the tank made of mild steel — capable of holding over 71 lakh litres of petrol — has become weak, the fire brigade changed strategy to spray more water on the walls of the red-hot tank. “By mid-afternoon, we knew that our task was to save the tank from collapsing since the fire has been more or less brought under control,” said an IOC official.

The reason for their fear was the presence of huge consignments of highly flammable naphtha, diesel and kerosene at the installation. “If the tank collapses, at least a 25 km stretch will be affected,” said the official.

Fire brigade officials said about five to seven lakh litres of petrol are still inside the tank, but fast burning out. “We are keeping the tank cool, so that it does not crack. We have been successful so far,” Pratim Chatterjee, the state fire services minister, said.

“Chances of an explosion which seemed so high last night are almost zero now, but our task has not ended,” he added.

Thirty-two fire tenders were used today to bring the situation under control and the army and air force were on standby. The tank — one of the biggest in this part of the state — fortunately had only 45-47 lakh litres of petrol in it when lightning struck yesterday evening.

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