It took more than three hours for about 100 men, mostly police personnel, to contain the 66/33 3mva (mega volt-amp) transformer that caught fire at the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) substation in Phuentsholing yesterday morning.

Sources say it took time because there were no firefighting mechanisms installed at the substation. The road to the substation is narrow and police couldn’t drive the fire brigade through.

The fire that started aroubd11:20am was contained at 2pm.  The 3mva couldn’t be saved from the fire even as the fire was contained. However, the fire was contained before it spread to the other transformer.

The fire was also uncontainable, as the transformer oil that was burning could not be contained with water. People even tried with sand.

Sources say only fire extinguisher foam was able to stop the oil from burning and the foam was not easily available.

Police had even called local hotels to supply their fire extinguishers. The transformer tank had about 6,000 to 7,000 litres of oil.

An eyewitness said it was the second major accident this year at the same substation. “I wonder why the transformer keeps catching fire,” he said.

Phuentsholing police superintendent, Colonel Wangchukla, who monitored the incident at the site, said it would have been possible to contain the fire soon if BPC had fire preventive mechanism.

“They should have such preventive measures installed considering the vulnerability of the place,” he said. “There is also no entry and exit for firefighting vehicles for an emergency.”

The SP also said BPC did not have fire hydrant available.

Observers and BPC officials said that firefighting foam could only contain the fire from the transformer oil. The substation office, as per requirement, have just two to four foam machines that are not enough in such major incidents.

Meanwhile, BPC officials were shocked. They said the particular transformer was not in use and was kept as standby. The transformer, however, was kept charged.

Officials said the 3mva transformer was installed in 1984 at the substation that is also one of the oldest in the country today. They claimed it was maintained and used.

BPC regional director, Karma Wangchuk, said people might think the power supply would be disrupted but BPC would be able to supply electricity by night time. “This transformer was kept idle and it was not for load,” he said.

He said the transformer next to the damaged transformer would not be used to distribute power, as it would first be investigated. “After checking the cables of other transformers, power would be supplied.”

BPC’s chief technical officer, KB Tiwari, said the accident might have occurred due to internal problem of the transformer.

“We will know it after we investigate everything,” he said, adding they were working on it.

He said the technical team was checking if the cables in other transformers were damaged.

KB Tiwari explained they maintained fire preventive measures as per the company standards.

Karma Wangchuk said they have started to work on fire protection measures. “Management team also had come here to inspect.”

BPC officials also said they were replacing the particular burned transformer with a 10mva transformer and that budget has already been finalised. “Phuentsholing town needs a transformer above 6mva capacity to distribute power,” an official said.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing