Two firefighters die in gas well blowout blaze in Assam
Two firefighters of public sector major OIL were found dead in a wetland abutting the site of a major blaze at its Baghjan well, which has been 'uncontrollably' spewing gas for the last 15 days in Assam's Tinsukia district, officials said on Wednesday.
Tension gripped the area after the fire, which erupted on Tuesday, damaged a stretch of the adjoining forest, houses and vehicles, provoking an attack by the local residents on OIL employees.
The two firefighters had gone missing after the well caught fire and their bodies were recovered by an NDRF team Wednesday morning, Oil India Ltd (OIL) spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika told PTI.
'Their bodies were recovered from a wetland near the site. Prima facie it looks like that they jumped into the water and got drowned as there is no mark of burn injury. The exact cause will be ascertained only after a post-mortem,' he said.
The duo has been identified as Durlov Gogoi and Tikheswar Gohain, both assistant operators of the fire service department of the company, the official said.
Gogoi was a well-known football player, who had represented Assam at several national tournaments in Under-19 and Under-21 categories. He was the goalkeeper of the Oil India football team.
A firefighter of the state-owned ONGC suffered minor injuries during the efforts to control the blaze, which the OIL said could take as long as four weeks to put out.
The 1,610 families evacuated after the May 27 blowout of crude and natural gas and lodged in relief camps 1.5km from the site were hurriedly shifted to new camps 15km away, Baghjan resident Hemanta Moran said, indicating the size of the area endangered by the blaze.
Many others from nearby areas were seen leaving on foot and on pickup vans and trucks after the flames began leaping around 1.30pm and damaged “20 to 25” empty houses of the already evacuated families, local people said.
PM assures help
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal of all possible assistance to the victims and to resolve the situation.
Sonowal called up the Prime Minister and apprised him of the situation arising from the gas blowout and the subsequent fire, a CMO official said.
'Gave details of Baghjan fire tragedy to PM Shri @narendramodi ji over phone. Also briefed him about emergency measures taken by @PetroleumMin, @OilIndiaLimited & state machinery. He assured of all possible help to resolve the situation & provide relief to victims,' Sonowal tweeted.
Gave details of Baghjan fire tragedy to PM Shri @narendramodi ji over phone. Also briefed him about emergency measures taken by @PetroleumMin, @OilIndiaLimited & state machinery.— Sarbananda Sonowal (@sarbanandsonwal) June 10, 2020
He assured of all possible help to resolve the situation & provide relief to victims. @dpradhanbjp
The Prime Minister's office confirmed the same, tweeting, 'PM @narendramodi spoke to Assam CM Shri @sarbanandsonwa to discuss the situation in the wake of the Baghjan fire tragedy. PM assured all possible support from the Centre. The situation is being monitored closely.'
PM @narendramodi spoke to Assam CM Shri @sarbanandsonwal to discuss the situation in the wake of the Baghjan fire tragedy. PM assured all possible support from the Centre. The situation is being monitored closely.— PMO India (@PMOIndia) June 10, 2020
Sonowal asks petroleum ministry for compensation
Sonowal condoled the deaths and said he has requested the Union petroleum ministry to compensate the victims.
'I request the Union petroleum ministry to compensate their families adequately as they sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. I also request the ministry to give employment to a member of each of the two families,' he told reporters.
Sonowal said four OIL employees present at the site had jumped into water but two survived.
'We will ensure safety and security of all the people living in nearby villages. We will also adequately compensate them for their losses,' Sonowal said in Guwahati.
Industries minister assesses situation
Chandra Mohan Patowary, the state's minister of industries, has already reached Tinsukia to assess the situation and hold discussions with the stakeholders.
The well, located adjacent to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, has been spouting gas and condensate droplets for the last 15 days, affecting forested areas and human habitations in a radius of one km.
'A number of houses, vehicles, small gardens and some forest areas have got burnt. We are trying to get an exact estimation of the damage but it has become difficult due to the raging fire and high temperature. The district administration is working on this,' an OIL official said.
Apart from fire tenders of the OIL, Army, Air Force, IOC and Assam Gas Company are trying to prevent the fire from expanding further.
Experts from Singapore supervising control mechanisms
Three experts from Singaporean firm Alert Disaster Control are present at the site since Monday, supervising efforts to extinguish the blaze.
Soon after the blaze erupted, OIL employees in and around Baghjan were attacked by locals, a spokesman for the company said.
'Many of our staff suffered injuries in the attack.
Our vehicles were badly damaged. We could evacuate our staff and those of the ONGC working at the site with great effort with the help of security personnel,' the official said.
Following the well blowout on May 27, OIL said over 1,610 families were moved out of the area and provided shelter at four relief camps, where following the guidelines to check the spread of the coronavirus, including maintaining social distancing, are proving to be a major challenge.
Thick plumes of black smoke shooting into the sky can be seen in areas 30 km away from the blazing well, posing a serious threat to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, known for its biodiversity.