Forty-three people sustained injuries, some of them serious, in a major fire followed by a boiler blast at a hydrocracker unit of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited’s (BPCL) refinery at Mahul, in Chembur area of Mumbai on Wednesday.
The blast took place around 2.45 pm, and its impact was so powerful that windowpanes of some buildings in the vicinity were damaged, and it was heard at some places as far as 6 km from the refinery.
Of the injured, 22 were discharged after preliminary treatment at the BPCL’s first-aid centre, and the others were admitted in Sushrut Hospital, Chembur, DCP (Zone 6) Shahaji Umap said. “Those injured have fractures and laceration wounds,” he said.
The police took an incident report and will investigate whether any negligence led to the accident.
In a statement, the BPCL said, “There was a fire incident in (a) Hydrocracker unit of BPCL Mumbai Refinery at Mahul at 1445 hrs today. The Refinery Fire-fighting team along with Mutual Aid group, which includes the fire brigade, immediately controlled and contained the fire. By 1530 hrs the fire was brought under control. During the incident some people suffered minor injuries and were sent to local hospital at Chembur for further treatment.”
It stated, “At this moment, the fire is under control…. The hydrocracker unit has been safely shut down and other units are normal. No product shortage is envisaged on account of the fire.”
DCP Umap said eight fire engines from BPCL, HPCL, BARC, RCF, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and Mazgaon Dock, along with four BMC tankers, worked on putting out the blaze.
An employee at the hydrocracker unit said, “We had just started work after lunch when some employees smelled gas and realised there had been a leak. We have undergone training for such situations and are told to assemble at a particular spot where we would be safe. But soon after the gas leak there was a massive fire, followed by a major blast at the boiler. As a result of the blast some people who were working at a height in the plant fell off and injured themselves.”
The employee said, “Others got injured when things like a section of the roof or some metal piece fell on them following the blast. Nearly 200 people working at the particular plant managed to escape. There are several such plants at the refinery. (Workers in) all of them heard the blast and started running.”
Santosh Tambe, a security guard at the refinery said nearly 600 to 700 people from all the plants fled. Some employees at the other plants put the number at 1,000 to 2,000 people. “Most people working at various plants here are employed with different agencies. They are not permanent employees,” another employee said.
According to one employee, the BPCL’s 15 fire-fighting vehicles started efforts to contain the blaze before others joined in. An official from the Fire Department said eight to 10 monitors of BPCL, mutual aid response group and fire brigade were pressed into service for cooling purpose from all sides. “All plants are depressurised and shut down for safety reasons. The remaining hydrocarbon is kept under control (during) burning process until the stock of hydrocarbon is exhausted,” a Fire Department official said.
Many people in nearby areas said they took the impact of the blast for an earthquake. Suvinya Patil, a resident of Vashi Gaon, abutting the explosion site, said, “There was a loud noise. We felt an earthquake had hit. It lasted only for a second or two. Our ears were ringing for a few minutes (thereafter) – the entire neighbourhood was shocked. People from both Vashi Gaon and Mahul Gaon, and a few villages nearby, felt the tremor and heard the sound. Tubelights and a few windowpanes of our house, and those in a few in the neighbourhood, were shattered.”
There were traffic snarls in the area after a section was cordoned off to ensure emergency vehicles reached the spot on time. Akshada Marathe, a Mahul resident, said, “No buses are coming towards Mahul or Vashi Naka or Vashi Gaon from Kurla. Many buses have been stopped. I live near MHADA Mahul, near the village. And had to walk all the way home.”
A medical officer at the emergency ward of Sushrut Hospital, Chembur, said, “Patients are stable. Most of them sustained contused lacerated wounds, but there are no serious injuries. We have kept them all under observation.”
By Wednesday night, five patients — Bhushan Pandit, Sarabjit Mandal, Sushil Bhosle, Krishnamurthy, and Nanadip Walwe — required ICU support. While Bhosle (35) suffered a head injury and multiple maxillary fracture on the face, making his condition critical, another employee, Walwe (53), suffered a head injury and fracture on shoulder and nasal bone. “Both are under observation in ICU,” a doctor said.
According to hospital medical superintendent Dr Patrick Pratap, most patients are expected to be discharged by Thursday.
Several people sustained contusions as a result of blast injury on hand and legs, and some suffered from minor abrasions. According to officials, one injured person was taken to Shatabdi Hospital, Govandi, and was discharged after receiving OPD treatment.
(with inputs from Tabassum Barnagarwala)