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Leak sparks inferno in oil well

Dikom (Dibrugarh), Sept. 15: An oil well leak that Oil India Ltd had initially dismissed as a routine technical glitch today turned into a raging inferno, forcing the company to requisition the services of global firefighting experts Red Adair and Neil Adams and declare a state of emergency in the area.

The blazing oil well is near the Upper Assam town of Dibrugarh, about 445 km from Guwahati.

Rattled by the intensity of the ecological disaster ' villages said acres of paddy fields had already been destroyed ' OIL officials admitted it was beyond their technical team to control the blaze.

“We are trying to get in teams from Neil Adams and Red Adair. It is simply not possible for us to control such a fire with our internal technology,” a company spokesperson said.

Dibrugarh deputy commissioner Harendra Nath Bora said 5,000 people had been evacuated from nearby villages and Dikom tea estate. “The fire seems to be out of control, but we have to ensure that lives are not lost,” he said.

The site resembled a bombed area with the sky black with smoke, debris scattered everywhere on the ground and a film of crude oil on the surface of the soil. The deafening roar of the leaping flames could be heard from miles away. A member of the firefighting team said temperatures at the site had risen to 2,000 degrees Celsius. About a dozen personnel fainted because of the heat and exhaustion.

Sources said nearly 50 fire tenders from OIL, ONGC, Indian Oil, Assam Gas Company and the State Fire Service Organisation have been pressed into service.

Well number 15 at Dikom had been spewing crude and gas since Tuesday, but it was not until this afternoon that a fire broke out. Officials said the cause of the blaze could not been ascertained immediately.

OIL group general manager G.K. Talukdar said an American team that is in Mumbai would be here tomorrow to assist the company’s firefighters.

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s Jorhat-based crisis-management team arrived at the site around 2 pm. Another three-member team from OIL’s Delhi office came in the evening. More ONGC teams and equipment have been requisitioned from Bombay High.

Barely 500 metres from the flaming well is an oil-collecting station, which is worrying OIL officials the most.

The OIL spokesperson described the fire as one of the most devastating that the company had faced in the state.

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