The Volvo bus in flames in Dankuni on Friday morning. Telegraph pictures
A Volvo bus plying between Calcutta and Asansol went up in flames near Dankuni on Durgapur Expressway on Friday morning.
No one was injured as the 38 passengers, alerted by thick smoke filling up the air-conditioned coach, evacuated on time.
Witnesses said there was a stampede-like situation when the panicked passengers rushed to the door at the front of the bus, run by Shyamoli Paribahan.
“Moments after the passengers got off, the entire bus was engulfed in flames right in the middle of Durgapur Expressway,” said a witness.
Reshmi Mazumdar, an NRI on a holiday trip with her family to Durgapur, was watching TV when she saw to her horror thick smoke filling up the coach.
“A stench of something burning filled the air. Seconds later a bus attendant came and told us to get off immediately,” said Mazumdar, whose laptop and vanity bag got gutted.
As the flames leapt, the passengers standing in the middle of the road started running helter-skelter. “The flames were swaying with the breeze. I had seen such scenes only in movies,” recounted Mazumdar.
Forty-five passengers were charred to death when a Volvo bus burst into flames after its fuel tank caught fire in Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh on October 29.
Two weeks later, seven passengers were killed when another Volvo bus caught fire while plying between Bangalore and Hyderabad.
After the Mahbubnagar accident, Volvo had said it would try to identify the cause of the fire. “We will gather all information and examine them from all angles to ascertain the cause of the fire. The results will be utilised to make the buses accident-proof,” a company official had said.
The 44-seater Volvo bus that caught fire on Friday started its journey at 10.50am from Esplanade and was to reach Asansol in four hours.
When the bus reached the Dankuni four-point crossing, around 30km from Calcutta, the driver spotted smoke.
“Driver Debabrata Das got off the bus to check what was wrong. He spotted smoke emitting from the front of the vehicle, near the right tyre. He immediately alerted the attendant and told him to ask the passengers to get off. All the passengers were evacuated within five minutes. We have seized the bus and a case has been registered,” said Rajnarayan Mukherjee, the Serampore sub-divisional police officer. Three fire engines doused the blaze but by then the bus had been reduced to its skeleton.
Shyamoli Paribahan ferried the stranded passengers to their destinations by another bus that arrived at Dankuni 30 minutes after the fire broke out.
“We had bought this (gutted) bus one-and-a-half years ago. Our vehicles are regularly checked. I do not know why the bus suddenly caught fire,” said Arun Ghosh, the owner of the company, which also runs buses to Dhanbad, Bokaro, Digha, Petrapole (in North 24-Parganas, on the Bangladesh border), Dhaka and Chittagong.
Several other operators, too, run Volvo buses from the city to various destinations. Over the years — such buses had first hit the city streets in 2009 — Volvo buses have become popular because of punctuality and comfort on cratered roads.
One-way ticket between Calcutta and Asansol cost Rs 360. The ticket from the city till Durgapur, a popular stop on the route, is priced Rs 320.