Published On : Sat, May 9th, 2015

Probable cause of fire at Wadi petrol pump could be static current

Fire at Wadi HP Petrol pump  (1)

The  news of the devastating fire at the Shri Krishna Automobile petrol pump, at Wadi owned by Mr. Harpal Singh Baweja has spread like fire throughout the city – to use a bad pun.

Everyone is asking what caused it – if people were hurt and most importantly, could it have been prevented?


We have got some answers from Bhatia, President of the Vidarbha petroleum dealers’ association.
Speaking exclusively to Nagpur Today, Bhatia told us that the fire happened spontaneously as a tanker of petrol/ diesel was being unloaded at the pump.


The good news is that no one was hurt as there was enough time for people to run away from the spot. The bad news is that the pump, its building and all its stock is completely destroyed. The tanker is also completely reduced to ashes.

The cause – Bhatia said when temperatures rise above 45* – as was the case in Nagpur today – fires can happen with very little cause.

“It can be a spark carried by the gust of winds – even from an automobile, it can be static current formed when a plastic ‘panni’ (bag) that is so commonly seen in garbage strewn around comes flying and meets with petrol fumes that are  present when tankers are being unloaded. It could also be some one using cell phones at the pump premises.”

What precautions can be followed?

Sadly, none it seems. The environmental temperatures cannot be controlled. Dhabas and other eateries often exist side by side with pumps. Plastic litter is everywhere – there is no controlling it.
It is a ‘natural calamity’ almost like a thunder storm that cannot be anticipated or controlled.

Can tankers not be unloaded during early mornings or evenings when temperature is less?

Again, not possible, says Bhatia. Tankers work in shifts and have to report back to the depot for carrying more fuel for other pumps. They are heavily loaded with work so the task of unloading cannot be delayed at all.

Fire at Wadi HP Petrol pump  (2)
Version of Fire Officer

The chief Fire Officer of Nagpur, Rajendra Uchke had a different version to narrate. Without blaming anyone, least of all the pump owner, he said their primary investigations show  short circuit as cause of fire. This can happen due to improper earthing of tanker being unloaded.

When any tanker is being unloaded at any pump, to keep just such an eventuality like today’s from happening, the tanker is supposed to be temporarily ‘earthed’ by some Copper clips attached to the tanker and also to the earth. From constant use, these clips can get lose and/ or defective and may slip off causing insufficient earthing.

At busy petrol pumps tankers are unloaded 2 – 3 times in 24 hours, so from constant use clips can slip off – very stringent measures should be in place to check such malfunctions.

Secondly, the pipe carrying fuel from tanker to underground storage tank has to be airtight. If the ‘coupling’ comes lose, only then petrol fumes can come out and catch fire with the slightest of ‘static currents’ as mentioned above. The escaping fumes become an ignition source.

When NT mentioned the possibility of sparks flying from the periphery, he said that does not look probable as the pump has high walls on both sides and is well protected.

The theory of faulty earthing and lose coupling of pipe line is borne out by the version of the driver of the tanker, said Mr. Uchke.

He said first a small fire was detected at the base of the pipe that was conveying petrol from tanker to tank. Even after this was noticed there was no way the flow of petrol could be stopped since the radiant heat generated is so much that no one can venture anywhere near the 1 meter pipe line and touch the valve.

Fire at Wadi HP Petrol pump  (3)
The only option left is to vacate the premises and wait for the petrol to burn out.

As soon as the fire was noticed, one fire tender was rushed to the spot from the MIDC, Hingna fire brigade office. When they saw the quantum of fire and fumes they knew one tender would not be enough so two more were sent from Nagpur.

It is creditable that they could prevent  a blast from happening which would have surely caused much more damage even leading to injuries.