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Blow the bloody doors off
Originally published:  10/01/2012
Across cultures, winter is celebrated with fire and flame. Think of Diwali’s festival of lights, the Chanukah menorah, Christmas candles, Bonfire Night in the UK, and so on. So it is with nos: a collection of flame-related incidents, mostly of a non-celebratory nature.
We start in south London. Well, we have to start somewhere. Back in December an explosion at the Abbey Pharmacy in Wimbledon blew the doors off, collapsed a ceiling, sent one employee to hospital and caused another to be treated on the premises for shock. What could have caused such a disaster? It turned out to be a scented candle.
Well, not just a scented candle. It turned out that the pharmacy staff were being bothered by a stink, probably caused by a rat that had died behind a display unit. So they lit a scented candle to mask the odour. So far so good. However, someone also decided to spray the area with air freshener; the aerosol spray was ignited by the candle’s naked flame. You might think that pharmacy staff would have sufficient understanding of physical and chemical properties to know what the result would be, but apparently not.
A similar event took place earlier this month in Melbourne, Australia, in a pizzeria that had been closed for renovations. It reopened with a bang after the owner set ten fumigation cans off and was in the process of setting more when the fumes were ignited, probably by a pilot light in the kitchen, blowing out doors and windows and causing damage of about A$50,000 (or about ten quid in ready cash). The local fire chief noted drily that the injured pizza man should have read the instructions on the cans, which indicate that ignition sources must be switched off.
Not what you expect
Early this month firefighters in Austria had a nasty shock. Called out to a barn fire east of Vienna, they were preparing to soak the blaze when a neighbour alerted them to the presence of venomous snakes on the premises. Beating a hasty retreat, a reptile expert was called in and managed to capture seven snakes, including an Indian cobra and two highly venomous taipans. Not being natives of Austria, there is apparently no antidote to their venom available in the country. After the snakes had been rounded up, the fire crew got back to the serious business of putting out the fire.
Another recent fire, this time in Thailand, presented a different if somewhat more pungent problem. Back in December, the Sawang Prateep Sriracha Rescue Team was called to deal with an explosion and fire at a warehouse belonging to Future Port Fusion. The crew arrived to find the building well alight, with 14 badly injured employees.
It emerged that the blaze broke out while workers were loading tapioca and eucalyptus sticks onto a truck. While either of those can be flammable, it is not clear how they managed to engineer an explosion; nevertheless, that is what happened. As well as the injuries, 16 vehicles were badly damaged and a nearby village was covered in dense smoke.
Another fire was reported last month in the Kadirenahalli Cross area of Bangalore, India. Late one night, locals called for help after seeing smoke in the first floor of a building occupied by Balaji Agarbatti Pvt Ltd, a manufacturer of incense sticks. By the time the owner and the fire brigade got there, the fire had taken hold and it proved very difficult to get the blaze under control.
The average joss stick user may not know this, but there are some pretty heavy-duty chemicals used in their manufacture. Of particular concern were at least 20 drums of flammable chemicals, including diethyl phthalate, which can produce a toxic gas when burned. Still, at least the firefighters smelled good when they got home.