Two Oil India Limited (OIL) firefighters have been found dead near the operator’s raging oil well fire onshore Assam in north-east India.
The well in Tinsukia district had been leaking gas for around a fortnight before erupting into a massive blaze on Tuesday, which reportedly was visible from 10 kilometres away.
An autopsy will be carried out on the two OIL firefighters, whose bodies were recovered from a nearby wetland.
"Their bodies were recovered from a wetland near the site. Prima facie it looks that they jumped in the water and were drowned, as there is no mark of burn injury. The exact cause will be ascertained only after a post mortem," an OIL spokesperson was quoted by the Press Trust of India.
Company officials on Wednesday said the fire has now been contained within a 50-metre radius of the well site but it has yet to be extinguished.
It was thought on Tuesday that only one Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) fireman had been slightly injured by the fire. At least nine tender vehicles have caught alight.
The blaze occurred 13 days after a blowout at the Baghjan-5 well and a day after experts from Singapore-based Alert Disaster Control had arrived in Assam to help assess and plug the leaking well.
The experts believe it could now take between 25 and 28 days to bring the situation under control. The blowout occurred during workover operations to exploit gas from a new reservoir interval at the producing well.
The Indian Air Force is involved in the firefighting operations, while the Army is helping the National Disaster Response Force and the local authorities in rescue and relief work after the Assam state government requested help.
All OIL and ONGC personnel have been evacuated from the site and the surrounding area is now cordoned off.
Following the 27 May blowout, there have been fresh local protests against oil operations in the area, which is located near to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the environmentally sensitive Maguri Mottapung wetlands.
“Fire has been spreading into the forest as well as the village area in an uncontrollable way. If the fire cannot be controlled immediately, then it will have a disastrous effect on the biodiversity. The lives of the animals are at risk,” said Bijay Gogoi, an environmentalist, told news portal Northeast Now.
Some 2000 nearby residents have been moved into relief camps since the incident occurred. The fire has reportedly destroyed more than 50 houses in the Baghjan area although this could not be independently confirmed.