A Tanker carrying 20,000 litres of ethyl alcohol caught fire after overturning near Kalka-Parwanoo barrier on Tuesday morning, setting off a blaze which consumed several other vehicles parked nearby and disrupted traffic on the busy Kalka-Shimla highway.
Luckily, no one was injured as the incident occurred away from a cluster of shops and kiosks in Kalka town.
Eight fire tenders from Panchkula, Kalka and Parwanoo took two hours to put out the fire.
The tanker was carrying ethyl alcohol, which is a highly inflammable chemical used for making potable alcohol, from Chandigarh Distillers and Bottlers Limited in Banur to Himfed Bottling Plant in Parwanoo.
Police said that near the barrier, the truck started sliding back on the slope, apparently due to a technical glitch. Driver Luvjeet Singh lost control of the vehicle and it overturned, falling on a kiosk, used by the Haryana Excise and Taxation Department to collect tax. The kiosk was locked at that time.
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From the overturned tanker, the chemical started leaking and flowing down the road. Near Kali Mata temple, about 75 metres below, it is suspected that someone dropped a lit matchstick or cigarette/bidi, starting the fire, which rushed uphill to the tanker and took in its sweep vehicles parked near by.
Three cars and six two-wheelers were left charred. The Excise and Taxation Department kiosk, in which about Rs 50,000 was kept, was burnt. A shop suffered some damage.
The fire brigade was summoned. In order to control the fire, it diverted the flow of the leaking chemical to a nearby water stream. “Apart from water, around 70-80 litres of foam was used to put out the fire,” said S S Malik, Fire Station Officer of Panchkula.
The barrier is usually a very busy spot. Since the fire broke out in the morning, there were not many people around at that time. However, the fire led to a traffic jam, and the police had to divert the traffic to another road.
The tanker driver was untraceable.
Hakam Singh, manager at Chandigarh Distillers and Bottlers Limited, said, “There were two tankers that were going towards Parwanoo. As the tanker driven by Luvjeet started moving downhill, the other tanker coming behind stopped well before as a precaution.”
Singh added, “It seems that Luvjeet got frightened and fled. We are also in search of him.”
He said the ethyl alcohol in the tanker was worth Rs 10 lakh.
Tanker owner Prem Singh said, “There is a major problem of heavy vehicles meeting with accidents at the Kalka-Parwanoo barrier, because they have to stop uphill midway. The government has made a bypass leading to Parwanoo, yet we are forced to take the route passing through Kalka city as there is no tax barrier of the Himachal Pradesh government on the bypass.”
Recalling the incident, Rajni, who runs a vend selling prashad a few metres away from the spot, said, “We were sitting at the vend when we saw fire coming from downhill and catching the tanker. We immediately rushed towards the water stream behind the vend to save ourselves. Our shop has been damaged. The fire has taken away our livelihood.”
Vijay Kumar, whose Tata Indica car was one of the three cars left charred, said, “I used to run it as a taxi. Last night, I returned late from work and parked the car here and went home. In the morning, I was informed that my car had caught fire.” see also page 3