Fires and explosions

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 1 December 2004



(2004), "Fires and explosions", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 13 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Fires and explosions

Fires and explosions

5 February 2004 – PortugalPortugal said it would spend 200 million euros ($250 million) over the next three years to reforest the record amount of land which was destroyed during a wave of summer wildfires that killed 20 people. Agriculture Minister Armando Sevinate Pinto told a news conference the money would enable the Government to plant trees in up to 60 per cent of the 280,000 hectares of forest which were ravaged by the flames that swept across the country between late July and mid-September. The Government estimates that the fires, which destroyed some 100 homes as well as thousands of kilometres of electrical and telephone wires, caused more than one billion euros in damage. The minister said the Government would also spend 50 million euros to help farmers replace lost agricultural equipment and fix damage done to state parks. He added that funds would be allotted at a later date on a fire prevention campaign so that “the public realises the value of forests and the terrible impact that fires cause.” The forest and wood products industry represents over 3 per cent of the Portugal’s gross domestic product and accounts for 11 per cent of the nation’s exports.

9 February 2004 – Wildfires, California, United StatesFederal officials have paid out an estimated $34 million in disaster aid in the wake of the October wildfires in Southern California, placing the price tag in “mid-range” compared to other federal disasters, an official said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to spend at least $14 million more in various wildfire-related grants. With the deadline to apply for federal wildfire-related assistance already passed, FEMA has awarded $30.5 million in housing assistance and other grants to people affected by the Southern California fires, according to FEMA’s latest figures. Of that amount, $17 million went to San Diego County victims. The agency awarded an additional $3.7 million to various public agencies who spent money on the fires, with $2.5 million of that going to San Diego agencies.

10 February 2004 – Coal mine, Shanxi Province, ChinaChina’s notoriously dangerous coal mining industry has claimed another 29 victims, this time in deliberately set explosions aimed at sealing a deserted mine. The bodies of villagers were found in the mine in Shanxi Province, which was rocked by explosions on Wednesday (February 4), Duan Jianguo, deputy secretary general of the provincial government, was quoted as saying in state media. The group had entered the deserted mine with explosives to try to seal it after learning it was linked to another mine, the China Daily said.

11 February 2004 – Coal mine, Liupanshui, Guizhou Province, ChinaA gas explosion rocked a coal mine in Liupanshui, Guizhou Province today, killing at least 24 miners, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported. Two others are missing, Xinhua said, adding that 15 other miners were rescued.

18 February 2004 – Neyshabur Area, IranMany people are reported to have been killed and injured in Iran when rail wagons carrying sulphur, petrol and fertiliser derailed and exploded. The exact number killed in the blast – which happened near the Northeastern town of Neyshabur – remains unclear. Initial reports said more than 200 had died, but one official later gave a lower estimate of 50-60. A local official said the explosion occurred when fire fighters were trying to extinguish the blazing wagons. Vahid Barakchi said five villages were destroyed by the blast, which occurred at around 09.45 hours (06.15 UTC). “The scale of the accident is very extensive and the damage seems to be more than initial estimates suggested,” he added. The blast shattered windows more than 10 km away and could be heard in the regional centre of Mashhad, 75 km from the scene. Pictures on Iranian TV showed massive destruction, with derailed wagons on fire and choking black smoke. Khorassan Province’s deputy Governor-General Hossein Zaresefat told AFP news agency that at least two local officials had been killed in the blast. “I have also heard some other local officials have been burned to death,” he added. Fire fighters are also reported to be among the dead. Rescue workers are struggling to take more than 350 injured people to hospitals in Neyshabur and Mashhad. Some sources say the runaway train wagons – which included 17 wagons of sulphur, six wagons of petrol, seven wagons of fertilizers and ten wagons of cotton wool – were set loose by earth tremors.

18 February 2004 – A freight train has exploded in Northeast Iran, causing large-scale loss of life and massive destruction. The exact number killed is unclear, but Iranian TV says 180 died when wagons carrying sulphur, petrol and fertiliser derailed, caught fire and blew up. Hundreds more were injured in the blast, which occurred near the town of Neyshabur in Khorasan Province. Many of the dead were fire fighters who had been trying to extinguish fires when the blast occurred. According to Iranian TV, the train wagons – which included 17 wagons of sulphur, six wagons of petrol, seven wagons of fertilizers and ten wagons of cotton wool – derailed and caught fire at 04.00 local time. Fire fighters had nearly put out the blaze, but at 09.35 local time an explosion occurred. This was possibly due to fumes from the cargo on board the crate wagons. Some sources say the train wagons were set loose by earth tremors. The blast shattered windows more than 10 km (six miles) away, and could be heard in the regional centre of Mashhad, 75 km from the scene. TV pictures showed massive destruction, with derailed wagons on fire and choking black smoke. Top city officials, including the local governor, mayor and fire chief, are believed to be among the dead. Irna news agency also said the head of the city’s energy department had been killed and that the director-general of the provincial railways was missing. An Irna reporter was also killed in the blast. Several hundred injured people have been taken to hospitals in Neyshabur and Mashhad. An official from the Natural Disasters Headquarters in Neyshabur, said the hospitals had been overwhelmed with casualties.

19 February 2004 – The final toll from the explosion of scores of runaway rail wagons loaded with chemicals, fuel and fertiliser is expected to settle at around 300 dead and 450 injured, a local official said, “We currently have a death toll of 295. If we find more bodies, I don’t think it will be more than 10 or 15,” said Vahid Barakchi, the head of Khorassan Province’s Disasters Unit. He said 450 people had been injured. The wagons had become unhitched in the early hours of Wednesday, before speeding out of control and derailing at Khayyam station near Neyshabour, around 75 km from the Northeastern city of Mashhad. The cargo of sulphur, fertiliser, petrol and cotton exploded as fire fighters, watched by curious villagers, were attempting to douse smaller fires. Barakchi also told reporters that the alert level around the scene of the carnage had been lowered, with no new explosions reported overnight. Mechanical diggers were seen moving in to the site to begin clearing the wreckage. As for the causes of the disaster, he said that “an investigation is underway”, with the station sealed off by members of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s ideological army. Barakchi said “vibrations” could have caused the train cars to come unhitched, without giving further details.

20 February 2004 – Rail services, halted for two days after an explosion on runaway train cars killed 320 people, resumed today on tracks set up to divert traffic around the accident site, after President Mohammad Khatami called for an extensive probe into the catastrophe. Officials speculated as to what caused the train cars, carrying a lethal mix of chemicals and fuel, to roll out of a rail yard, catch fire and then explode. The provincial governor said it was probably a result of negligence or brake failure. A railway official said a storm might have loosened a wedge that blocked the front car’s wheels. Relatives of the victims were allowed close to the explosion site for the first time since the train cars exploded at dawn on Wednesday (February 18). The blast injured 460 people and damaged five villages. The station nearest Dehnow, a village of 400 people, was still standing, though walls were damaged, windows were broken and trees had fallen. Smoke rose over the site of the explosion, and bulldozers and rescue workers continued clearing the area, removing debris and looking for body parts. Khatami yesterday called for an extensive probe into the causes of the train derailment. The train was loaded with gasoline, fertilizer, sulphur and cotton when it somehow started rolling out of a rail yard. It travelled 30 miles before hitting a sharp turn at the next station. There, all but three cars derailed, some catching fire. The wrecked train burned for more than five hours before its hazardous cargo exploded, killing fire fighters, rescue workers, spectators and villagers. The blast collapsed mud homes in five villages, shattered windows as far as six miles away and left a 50-foot deep crater. A provincial official said yesterday that two possible causes of the crash were being investigated. “One is negligence of the personnel at the station and the other is a technical failure of the braking system,” said Hassan Rasouli, governor of Iran’s Northeastern Khorasan Province. Rasouli said the iron wedge that was used to secure the lead wagon’s wheels had been broken, and it was not known whether the brakes on the individual wagons were working. The deputy head of Khorasan’s railway department, Mohammad Sadeq Barzanoni, said a strong storm the day before the accident might have dislodged the wedge. The train – on its way from central Asia to Iran’s Southern port of Bandar Abbas – had been parked at a station since Monday. Railway managers in the city of Neyshabur were called in for questioning as the investigators prepared an accident report, said Asgarian, the local railway official. “The investigation is going slowly because all the officials who came to investigate the initial incident are now dead,” Asgarian said.

15 February 2004 – Department store, Jilin, ChinaA fire at a department store in Northeast China has killed at least 30 people. Forty other people were injured in the blaze, which started on the second floor of a five-storey shopping and entertainment complex in the city of Jilin, a report from Xinhua News Agency said. The fire was discovered at around 11.20 local time and took four hours to put out. The cause is being investigated.

17 February 2004 – Officials said that at least 53 people were killed and more than 60 injured when fire broke out on February 15 on the second floor of the busy four-storey Zhongbai Commercial Plaza, in Jilin, which housed shops, a dance hall and a bath house. Most of the victims were customers on the third and fourth floors enjoying baths and billiard games, an official at the Jilin City Government said. Shoppers on the second floor, where the fire started, were able to escape. Authorities were still investigating the cause. The official Xinhua news agency said a preliminary investigation indicated the fire started in a temporary storehouse near a boiler room. Witnesses said many people, bundled in thick coats against the sharp cold, jumped from the top floors. Wooden boards were used to carry away the dead and injured. An official at Jilin’s Central Hospital said many of the injured suffered from smoke inhalation or shattered their legs when they hit the ground after leaping. Built in the 1990s, the shopping centre held 111 shops and covered around 4,000 m2. Xiao Yao, a manager of the shopping mall, said that fire fighters and officials were mopping up after the fire. “The building is virtually black now and the fire fighters have withdrawn,” he said.

18 February 2004 – A fire that killed 53 people at a Chinese shopping mall was caused by a cigarette dropped into flammable materials and a “criminal suspect” has been detained in the case, the government said today. The official Xinhua News Agency identified the suspect as 35-year-old Yu Hongxin, but did not say whether the fire was believed to have been intentionally sparked or give other details about the man’s identity. The fire at the crowded Zhongbai Building in the Northeastern city of Jilin was one of a pair of blazes on Sunday (February 15) in China that killed a total of 93 people. The second fire on Sunday, at a bamboo temple in the village of Wufeng, Southwest of Shanghai, killed 40 women as they worshipped. Authorities blamed burning incense and have detained a man accused of building the temple illegally. Investigators, including specialists sent from Beijing, questioned dozens of people in the search for the cause of the Jilin fire. Yesterday, Xinhua said fire extinguishers in the mall were not used to fight the blaze, and investigators were trying to figure out why.

19 February 2004 – Kitzsteinhorn Mountain, AustriaAn Austrian court cleared all 16 defendants of liability for a train fire in the Austrian Alps that killed 155 people. Judge Manfred Seiss ruled that the defendants, among them train operators, technicians and bureaucrats, were not responsible for the November 2000 accident, the worst toll in a fire in Austria since World War II. “You are not criminally liable and the suspicions against you have not been proven in the trial,” the judge said. The 155 victims suffocated when a fire engulfed a cable-drawn funicular railway travelling up to the all-year ski resort of Kaprun in central Austria. The trial of the 16 has moved slowly, taking 20 months, including a year-long suspension when one of the principal experts testifying became sick. Testimony from 95 witnesses established that the fire broke out while the train was entering the tunnel at the foot of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier where it was taking 161 skiers. According to seven expert analyses spread over 470 pages, the fire was caused by a faulty part and was not started by arsonists. The blaze was caused by the “malfunctioning of a small warm air heater”, said chief investigator Helmut Prader in the conclusions of his report to the inquiry into the disaster. Prader was tasked with investigating whether the fire had been started deliberately after a German survivor Thomas Kraus told how he saw a person enter the empty engineer’s cabin at the back of the train, where the fire is believed to have broken out. The heater, which was in the back of the train, ignited oil dripping from a system for hydraulic brakes. The heater had been installed in 1994, during a renovation of the train, which had been in service since 1974. The fire was worsened by the fact that the tunnel was not lit, had only one narrow service stairway and the doors of the train could not be opened by the passengers from the inside. Passengers in the back of the train managed to break the Plexiglas windows and get out and survive by running downhill out of the tunnel. Those who fled uphill were quickly overcome by toxic fumes from burning parts of the train as well as burning ski material that had been abandoned in the panic. Experts said a fire storm was created inside the tunnel as the flames were fed by air flowing through the tunnel’s two open ends.

26 February 2004 – Cafe, Chita, Siberia, RussiaAt least 12 people were killed and 17 more injured today in a cafe explosion in Siberia, which apparently was caused by a natural gas leak. Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andriyanova said that the explosion had destroyed the building housing a small cafe in the city of Chita in Southern Siberia, approximately 4,700 km east of Moscow. She said that according to preliminary information, the blast was apparently sparked by a natural gas leak. Neglect of safety precautions has led to frequent gas explosions in Russian apartment buildings and public buildings. A five-storey apartment building right next to the cafe suffered minor damage, Andriyanova said.

23 February 2004 – Coal mine, Heilongjiang Province, ChinaA gas explosion has trapped 37 miners in China’s Northeastern province of Heilongjiang, the latest in a string of accidents in the country’s notoriously dangerous mining industry. Rescuers had gained access to the state-owned Baixing coal mine near the city of Jixi, but no miners had been found, Li Wenzhong, an official with the provincial production safety department, said. “The cause of the blast is under investigation,” Li added.

24 February 2004 – A gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in Northeastern China yesterday morning, killing at least 24 miners and leaving another 13 trapped. Rescuers said the chances of any of the trapped miners surviving the accident are very slim. Dangerous gases kept rescuers from reaching the trapped victims, state television reported. The blast hit the mine in Jixi, Heilongjiang Province, at about 06.10 hours. As of 22.00 yesterday, rescue workers had retrieved 24 bodies from the Baixing Coal Mine, under the management of the Jixi Coal Industry Corporation, according to China Central Television. The shaft where the victims are trapped was blocked and the ventilation system had yet to return to normal operation, according to local officials. Due to the problems, the bodies could not be moved above ground, they said. Meanwhile, Wang Dexue, vice director of the State Administration for Work Safety, and other central government officials have arrived at the scene to help with the rescue work. This is the most severe coal-mine accident reported in China this year, said safety officials.

25 February 2004 – As of 22.00 yesterday, rescue workers had recovered 32 bodies of the workers killed in a mine blast in Jixi, in Northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province. They were still searching for five others trapped underground. Rescue efforts had been hampered by seriously damaged tunnels leading to the shaft, and clearance work was still under way. Rescuers are still searching for others believed to be trapped, said Vice Mayor Xu Zhenlin. “Their chance of survival is slim,” as a high concentration of poisonous gas in the air and collapsed rocks make rescue operations extremely difficult, said a member of the rescue team. A total of seven rescue teams, each consisting of ten people, have been working in turns. Wang Shijun, who runs the mine, has been put under custody, a police officer said. Meanwhile, the Jixi City Government has ordered the city’s 331 small coal mines to suspend operation and check safety facilities. The four big state-owned mines in the city are not covered by the ban. The identities of 37 victims of the explosion have been confirmed, rescuers said yesterday. The miners were aged between 22 and 49, according to local authorities. Thirty of them were locals or former workers in local enterprises that had gone bankrupt, and seven were from Southwestern China’s Sichuan Province.

26 February 2004 – The death toll from a Chinese mine explosion has risen to 33, with an official saying it would take a miracle to find the remaining four missing men alive. Rescuers have been searching for three days following the blast at the Baixing Coal Mine near the city of Jixi in Northeastern Heilongjiang Province. Investigations into the accident are still under way, but state media has reported that the mine owner flouted official safety orders, possibly contributing to the blast. The Baixing Coal Mine was shut down earlier this month by mine safety officials and the company fined $US2,400. However, the owner, Wang Shijun, who has been detained by police, has confessed to resuming production only days later despite the warnings, according to the Xinhua news agency.

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