Fires and explosions

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 1 December 1999



(1999), "Fires and explosions", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 8 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited

Fires and explosions

Fires and explosions

23 September 1998 - Boafeng County, China

A huge gas explosion in a coal mine in China's central Hunan province killed 28 miners last week, the Legal Daily said today. The mine, in Baofeng County, had been extensively checked last month.

1 October 1998 - Saran, Kazakhstan

Eight bodies have been recovered from the debris of an apartment block destroyed this week by a suspected butane gas explosion in the central Kazakh town of Saran, a spokeswoman for the local emergency services said today. "Eight people have died from the accident so far," the spokeswoman said. "Three were rescued and taken to hospital." She said that rescue workers were continuing to search through the rubble of the five-storey building, which collapsed when an explosion ripped through the lower floors late on Tuesday night (29 September). "Initially it appears that the explosion came from a butane gas container," the spokeswoman said, adding that the exact cause of the blast had yet to be established. Around 20 people were thought to have been in the building when the accident occurred.

2 October 1998 - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev sent condolences today to relatives of 14 victims of a gas explosion thought to have been caused by people hoarding heating fuel in fear of winter shortages. An official from Kazakhstan's emergency situations committee said that 14 bodies had been recovered from the debris of an apartment block in the central Kazakh town of Saran. "All rescue operations are over now," he said. "The casualty number is final." He said the blast ripped through 13 of 120 flats in the five-storey block in one of Kazakhstan's worst accidents ever. "The explosion was so powerful that concrete blocks of the house not just collapsed but turned into pebbles," he said. "Rescue teams found in the rubble of the destroyed entrance of the apartment house numerous gas containers, although the house is directly supplied with natural gas," the official said. "We believe the dwellers had formed massive stocks of gas in containers, fearing possible irregular gas supplies this winter," he added.

13 October 1998 - Tultepec, Mexico

At least ten people were burned to death or crushed by rubble today when a fireworks factory on the outskirts of Mexico City exploded, leveling four city blocks, officials said. The explosion occurred at 09.30 (14.30, UTC). The governor of the state of Mexico, Cesar Camacho, said 10 bodies had been pulled from destroyed houses and the factory building in Tultepec, a town about 20 miles north of Mexico City. The Mexican Red Cross earlier reported at least 16 people dead, 45 injured and 15 missing. Red Cross official Rafael Gudino said a final count would only be possible after rescue workers finished searching through tons of rubble. Television footage from helicopters showed smoke billowing from crumbled buildings and people crawling over the ruins, trying to rescue trapped people. Hundreds of soldiers, police and emergency workers, backed by sniffer dogs, searched for bodies or survivors in the area, where a labyrinth of clandestine fireworks manufacturers set up in family homes surround legal factories. Reporters from the Televisa network said the damage extended for at least a mile while a reporter for Radio Red said the shock waves were felt several miles away. The cause of the explosion was not known.

11 October 1998 - Vijaywada, India

A total of 11 people were killed in a southern Indian town when fire-crackers stored in a house caught fire and caused a huge explosion. Police said the explosion took place in Vijaywada town, some 300km south-east of Andhra Pradesh state capital Hyderabad, this morning, killing 11 people and injuring four. A total of 22 people were staying in the house, where one of the residents had stored nine sacks of firecrackers for sale before the Deepavali festival, which falls on 19 November. Police said the blast destroyed the house and shook the neighbourhood. Most of the dead were burnt alive and the survivors suffered severe burns. Police said an investigation had been ordered.

29 October 1998 - Dusan, South Korea

A large fire in a South Korean construction site killed 14 workers and injured 10 today, a local fire department official said. About 100 people were working at the refrigeration plant under construction in Busan when part of the building site erupted in flames at around 08.00 (23.00, UTC, 28 October). "We suspect the fire may have started during some welding operations at the plant but we are unsure of the actual causes right now," the official said. "Investigations are under way". The flames at the plant were completely doused by afternoon, he added. The injured were moved to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment but the death toll could rise as some injuries were serious, he said.

29 October 1998 - A total of 21 people have died and as many as 14 other people have been injured in a fire at the construction site of an eight-story building. Some victims died after jumping off the building trying to escape flames. Rescue workers say five firefighters are among those severely injured in the blaze, the second fire in the building this month. State-run Yonhap news agency is reporting the flames erupted today following an explosion on the sixth floor of the building, which has been under construction for two years. Yonhap says about 50 construction workers fled to the rooftop but some died after jumping 20m to escape the blazing flames. Investigators are yet to determine the cause of the fire or the exact number of people working at the building at the time of the explosion. The construction project, headed by Dongwon Construction Co. Ltd, is planned to be a cold storage warehouse scheduled for completion in January.

30 October 1998 - The death toll has reached 27 with 16 other people injured after firefighters found more bodies overnight, police and fire officials said today. Rescuers were still searching through the site this morning, officials said. Local media reported most of the bodies were found on staircases between the fifth and seventh floors, while ten workers sustained serious burns and broken bones while trying to get to the rooftop or jump out windows. An official at Dongwon Construction Co. Ltd, in charge of building the cold storage warehouse, said some 200 workers were working at the site yesterday when the fire broke out on the sixth floor of the eight-storey building. The fire charred nearly a quarter of the half-completed building which was to be used as a storage facility for fresh seafood, the Dongwon official said. "The cause of the fire has not yet been determined pending the results of an investigation," a firefighter said. "But we suspect it was caused when sparks from a welding operation ignited flammable liquids close by." The flames were doused by noon yesterday after more than 100 fire trucks, some 400 firefighters and two helicopters had converged on the scene, he said. Dongwon officials declined to comment on possible compensation for families of the deceased and injured but said they would set up a joint altar for the unidentified dead near the construction site. Eleven of the dead are still unidentified.

30 October 1998 - Gothenburg, Sweden

A blaze killed at least 60 young people when a fire broke out at a Halloween dance at an immigrant cultural centre in Gothenburg, police said today. Police could not say if it was a racial attack but said several hundred youths aged between 13 and 20, both Swedes and immigrants, were dancing at the Macedonian cultural centre when the fire started shortly before midnight. The cause of the fire was unknown but officials were not ruling out arson. Many of the youths panicked, breaking windows and jumping from the roof of the three-storey building when they could not escape through the disco's only exit. Some of the charred bodies still remained inside the hall early today. Most of the immigrants were from Macedonia or Somalia. Officials said the Halloween dance had not been organised by the Macedonian centre. Some 30 ambulances were at the scene and the building was still burning as rescuers carried out the dead, wrapped in blankets. Up to 400 people were believed to have been inside when the fire broke out on the second floor of the building which was an old theatre. Police said an alarm had sounded at midnight local time (2300, UTC). Swedish radio said at 02.00, UTC firemen had managed to extinguish the blaze but smoke was still billowing out of the partly destroyed building.

2 November 1998 - Khanapara, India

At least ten people were killed when a gas tanker caught fire in India's oil-and-tea rich north-eastern state of Assam, police said today. The leaky liquefied petroleum gas tanker burst into flames at Khanapara, on the outskirts of the state capital Dispur, last night, police said. Ten people died on the spot and dozens of others were injured in the blaze, which was brought under control this morning. Police said more than 50 people had been taken to hospital with severe burns.

23 November 1998 - Shaanxi Province, China

A gas explosion in a coal mine in China's northern Shaanxi province has killed 28 and left 18 missing, state media said in a report seen in Beijing today. Rescue workers were able to save ten people from the scene of the accident, which occurred in a government-owned mine in Liushi village, Xunyi county, according to a report in the Hainan Daily. The article gave no further details.

29 November 1998 - Yunnan Province

A gas explosion in a coal mine in China's south-western Yunnan province killed 38 miners and injured 18 others, the Beijing Evening News said today. Six miners were missing after the explosion ripped through the mine in Xuanwei city. The blast was triggered when workers dynamited a mine-shaft, where more than 80 miners were working, the newspaper said. It did not say what happened to the other workers.

3 December 1998 - Manila, Philippines

An electrical fault at the Associacion de Damas de Pilipinas orphanage in Manila in the early hours of this morning led to a furious 90-minute fire which engulfed the three-storey wooden building, killing at least 27 people, all but six of them children. A total of 43 survived and some nine people were still unaccounted for. Firemen were initially unable to get into the building because of the heat, and began dousing the fire from the outside as columns of white smoke climbed into the sky. The wooden floors and ceilings were the first to catch fire, and the cotton mattresses on the beds quickly became flame-traps from which there was no escape, firemen said. Most of the victims were trapped in the upper storeys, said one investigator, Redentor Alumno. Most of the 43 survivors were sleeping on the ground floor.

4 December 1998 - Jermuk, Armenia

Rescue workers today pulled seven more bodies from the wreckage of an explosion at a hotel, bringing the death toll in yesterday's blast to 11, an emergency services official said. He said a total of 12 other people were injured in the blast in a hotel cafeteria in the south-western city of Jermuk, 150km from Yerevan. The blast was caused by a gas leak, he said.

7 December 1998 - Baoji, Shaanxi Province, China

A press report, dated today, states: A fire in a shopping mail in north-western China, on the evening of 4 December, killed at least eight people and injured 23 others, state media reported today. The fire broke out on the third floor of the six-story People's Shopping Mall in Baoji in Shaanxi province. It took more than 400 firefighters and 31 fire engines about three hours to extinguish the flames.

14 December 1998 - Zhejiang Province, China

A gas explosion in an east China coal mine killed 32 miners and injured ten others on Saturday (12 December), mine officials said today. "A spark touched off the explosion," said an official at the Changguang mine in Zhejiang province. "We don't know what caused the spark yet," he said. Nine of the injured were seriously hurt in the explosion at the number six mine in Changxing county, about 95 miles south-west of the provincial capital of Hangzhou. Officials at the mine had no other details saying only that rescue teams had been rushed to the scene. Senior Zhejiang provincial officials, including Communist Party secretary Zhang Dejiang and Governor Cai Songyue, were also on hand to inspect the rescue operations, the Wenhui Daily said. The mine is one of several in the area operated by a coal group that has 10,000 miners producing 800,000 tonnes of coal a year.

12 December 1998 - Hillsdale, Michigan, USA

A Press report, dated Hillsdale, Michigan, 11 December, states: An explosion obliterated a fireworks factory today, scattering debris hundreds of yards in every direction. Six women and one man working inside were unaccounted for and feared dead. A total of 12 others were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene, and one survivor was being treated at a nearby hospital, said Hillsdale County Sheriff Stanley Burchardt. From 20 to 25 people usually work at the factory, but an unknown number were on the property at the time, Burchardt said. The seven missing people were all in the building when it exploded, he said. The Independence Professional Fireworks Co. factory, a converted farmhouse, was so thoroughly levelled that only a slab of concrete foundation remained. Several cars and trucks parked nearby were reduced to heaps of charred and tangled metal. The 14.00, EST, blast sent a huge cloud of smoke into the sky and could be heard for at least 20 miles. The factory was located in Jefferson Township, southeast of Hillsdale near the Michigan state line with Ohio and Indiana. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was going to take over the investigation tomorrow, Burchardt said. A spokesman for US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said the federal agency also was sending two investigators to the site.

12 December 1998 - Santo Antonio de Jesus, Brazil

The death toll in the explosion of an illegal fireworks factory in north-eastern Brazil rose to 33 today and authorities said the number could rise since many were hospitalised with serious burns. Police were still investigating the cause of Friday's explosion after a warehouse containing 1.5 metric tons of fireworks exploded and completely destroyed the plant in Santo Antonio de Jesus, 105 miles south of Salvador. A rescue worker at Santo Antonio de Jesus municipal office said that up to 60 workers were estimated to have been in the factory at the time of the accident and that more than half of the dead were women. "There were some children in there too, and unfortunately, the number of the dead could still go up as many are seriously burned," she said. Police said they were working under the hypothesis that the explosion was caused by a short circuit, abandoned cigarette or excessive heat in the warehouse. "The situation is complicated because the owner of the factory ran away immediately after the accident," said a police officer in Santo Antonio de Jesus. "All we know is that there were a lot of fireworks being made there and the area lacked proper safety measures," he added.

14 December 1998 - An explosion at a Brazilian fireworks factory which killed 41 people has exposed the plight of women and children working in the dangerous industry for pitiful salaries, local authorities said today. A warehouse containing 1.5 tonnes of fireworks exploded and completely destroyed the plant Friday (11 December) in Santo Antonio de Jesus, 105 miles south of Salvador in the northeastern state of Bahia. Police were still investigating the cause of the accident which has devastated the impoverished town, a centre of legal and illegal fireworks factories which employ mostly women and children for an average $67 a month. There was no confirmation of an earlier report that the blast happened when a woman accidentally threw a cigarette during a fight with another female worker, said a spokeswoman for the civil police in Santo Antonio de Jesus. The death toll was rising daily as victims of the blast succumbed to severe burns, according to Alix Martins, a spokeswoman at the local mayor's office. At the latest count, 38 women, one boy and two unborn children had died. A further 26 victims remained in hospitals in Salvador in serious or very serious condition, she said.