The big blast, local residents said, was followed by two other blasts of smaller nature. As many as 15 fire tenders including 12 from refinery and one from National Fertilizers Limited and two from as many local municipal bodies were pressed into service.
The blaze was contained after about five hours. Even though the company claimed that the fire was under control by 7:30 am, smoke was emanating from the closely guarded refinery till 11:30 am. "The VGO unit was shut down immediately after the incident. Balance units, at present, continue to operate and the refinery is functional. A probe has been initiated to understand the cause of the fire. Corrective steps and action will follow after a root cause analysis is complete," said Sangeetha R Chakravarthy, head corporate communications, HMEL.
She said that the company will assess the losses and the process will be complete in a couple of days. Chakravarthy added the production of company will not suffer because of the incident and it will meet its production targets. Such was the impact of the blast that it shook the houses nearby. Pieces of aluminum sheet from the factory reached nearby Kanakwal village. Gurmail Singh, a local resident, said that the impact of the blast could be gauged from the fact that metal sheets reached the village which could have harmed the residents.
He said that the blast was so severe that even the cattle broke their rope to get free. Anticipating a big tragedy, some of the residents of these villages too left their houses after the incident and came back only after the situation was under control. A similar incident had taken place in the refinery last April, spreading panic to the nearby villages. The refinery started functioning on April 28, 2012, and has a capacity of manufacturing nine million tones of petroleum products per year.