TINSUKIA, June 9 - The leaking Baghjan 5 gaswell of Oil India Limited (OIL) caught fire around 1 pm today, triggering chaos and panic in several villages and at least two tea gardens nearby. Tea pluckers in the Dighulturrung estate fled from the garden, while those living in the estate�s labour line No. 10 looked at the leaping flames in horror.
The garden is barely one and a half kilometres from the oilwell. At the nearby Baghjan tea estate, managers and workers gaped at the thick plumes of black smoke, accompanied by large hissing sounds of the gas igniting.
Till the filing of this report, the cause of the fire remains a mystery. Some personnel were working a little distance away from the leaking well till the time the place went up in flames. It is speculated that the cleaning operations at the accident site may have ignited the fire.
Locals say several people have suffered minor injuries. This could not be independently verified, but maybe some may have got bruised in the panic running. OIL has admitted that one fireman from ONGC suffered injuries today.
While OIL is yet to assume responsibility for the outbreak of the inferno, which leaped more than 300 feet into the air, it is gathered that there was a plan to ignite the well and then trigger an explosion to douse the flame.
Technically called �Ignite Well�, this was on the drawing boards of the crisis management team (CMT), and reportedly agreed to in principle by the foreign experts from Alert, Singapore.
Following the flaring of the oilwell, locals of the surrounding villages instantaneously took to vociferous protests. Almost 50 houses have been damaged in the accident vicinity, further infuriating the angry citizens.
For almost a fortnight, a majority of them have been staying at the four relief camps, and they hated OIL for this plight of theirs.
The vitiated atmosphere has caused despondency among the CMT and other OIL personnel. They are afraid to go near the accident site on their own, and are doing so under police protection.
Efforts are on to calm the local population, as the expert team from Singapore has reportedly told OIL that the situation will be brought under control soon enough. The experts are expecting some more colleagues to join them in the coming days to help in the gas well capping effort.
Today�s fire has now given rise to more protests from environmental groups, who are concerned that the leaking condensates will severely damage the nearby Maguri Motapung Beel, which is an ecological hotspot. They are also fearing severe damage to the foliage of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, which is not very far away from the accident site.
Former chairman of the Tinsukia Development Authority, Pronab Baruah, and a scion of the erstwhile Mottock royal family, Saroj Gohain have both expressed deep concern at the plight of the villagers of the Baghjan area. Both demanded rehabilitation and compensation to the affected families.
Similar demands have also been raised by the All Moran Students Union.
Doomdooma Correspondent adds: Soon after the Baghjan well was engulfed in a massive fire, the smoke billowing out of it could be seen from Doomdooma as well as Tinsukia, even as pungent smell filled the atmosphere in an area of about 30 km radius.
As the condensate spread to the nearby areas, the fire also swept through a large area around the gas well gutting several dwelling houses, bamboo plants, betel nut trees and other vegetation and agricultural fields.
An OIL official said the fire in the nearby areas would be doused after some time as soon as the spreading condensate is brunt down, although it would take time to extinguish the fire in the well.
Meanwhile, people housed in the relief camps in the Baghjan area are now being shifted to Bandarkhati High School, Bandarkhati Nagamati LP School and Diamoolie Palong Line LP School.