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the Tires of a Crane Cause Fire?
Can Ignited Coking Coal Particles Falling on
the Tires of a Crane Cause Fire?
TSN Murthy1*, E Mohan2 and G Pradeep Kumar3
1Former Joint Director, AP Forensic Science Laboratory, India
2 Research Scholar, Osmania University, India
3 Research Scholar, AP Forensic Science Laboratory, India
Submission:December 04, 2019; Published: December 11, 2019
*Corresponding author:TSN Murthy, Former Joint Director, AP Forensic Science Laboratory, HIG-61, Bharath Nagar Colony, Hyderabad 500018, India
How to cite this article:TSN Murthy, E Mohan, G Pradeep K. Can Ignited Coking Coal Particles Falling on the Tires of a Crane Cause Fire?. J Forensic
Sci & Criminal Inves. 2019; 13(2): 555860. DOI: 10.19080/JFSCI.2019.13.555860.
Mobile Harbor Crane used for loading and unloading commodities into ships was burnt in Haldia Port, India. Before the fire accident the crane was unloading coking, coal imported from Indonesia. Fire accident occurred after refueling the crane with HSD. It was presumed by the owners of the crane that the fire occurred due to self-ignition caused in the coking coal and the ignited coking coal particles travelling with the wind falling on the tires of the crane. As the insurance company was not satisfied, they sought the help of the authors to conduct forensic investigation and to determine cause of fire. It was found that the refueling was done from HSD oil tanker to the fuel tank of the crane which was about 20 feet from the ground level with the help a hydraulic pump. On a careful examination of the hydraulic pump it was found to have an irregular shape hole of 10cms in diameter with the edges of the hole averted. A detailed literature survey and information gathered during field visit; it was revealed that the inlet valve of the hose pipe used during refueling was closed without switching off the motor of the pump. This resulted in the churning of HSD in the impeller of the pump resulting in the increase of temperature. The highly volatile HSD vapor developed enormous pressure inside the pump resulting in the explosion of the casing of the pump. The burning diesel ejected with great force fell on the tires of the crane resulted in its catching fire.
There is a natural tendency for everyone to be impressed by the magnitude and violence of the fire itself and the degree of destruction that results from a large fire. In the case of insurance this tendency is aggravated by the fact that the damage due to fire is expected to be assessed and possibly pay the claim. For accurate investigation of fires, this preoccupation with the magnitude and results of the fire is unfortunate. The time of presumptions and assumptions is long gone. Only a successful forensic investigator with analytical approach with an understanding of numerous facets of fire, fuels, people and investigative procedures can only identify the cause of fire.
In July 2019, a fire incident case was received from an insurance company for conducting forensic fire investigation to determine the cause of fire. Fire was reported to have occurred in a Mobile Harbor Crane of make Terex, year of construction 2016,
which was unloading coking coal imported from Indonesia at Haldia Port, India (Figure 1). On the fateful day at about 08:15am the Safety & Electrical Engineer, technician & helper along with HSD fuel tanker went to the crane and started refueling with HSD as per scheduled programmed. The technical team completed the refueling by about 08:40am. A total of 4000 liters of HSD was filled. After refueling the technician and helper went to Storeroom to deposit tools and tackles required for process of refueling (Figure 2). After putting them in the Storeroom, they proceeded towards crane to gather rest of the tools and tackles. At that instant, they suddenly noticed fire near bottom part of the crane. On noticing fire, they alerted all concerned and informed the Crane Operator in walkie-talkie that there was a fire below and he must escape immediately. The duty ‘On Broad’ Supervisor immediately informed the Port Officials about the fire. The strong breeze fanned the fire and caused it to spread and burn very fiercely in a matter of minutes. This resulted in the entire crane being engulfed in flames and was severely damaged. Many
workers gathered around to assist and help Crane Operator to
escape from the cabin but in the course of trying to get away
from the fire, the crane operator fell to the ground. He was
immediately rushed to Hospital for emergency treatment where
he succumbed to his injuries. A number of fire tenders reached
and brought the fire under control by about 12:40pm (Figure 3).
Once the HSD fuel tanker arrives, the team (3 persons) will
reach the spot and inform the Crane Operator through walkietalkie
about the readiness for refueling. The Crane Operator will
put the crane in ‘stand by’ position. One of team members will
take the dip measurement in the main tank of the crane to find
the quantity of HSD in the tank. Suction hose pipe is connected
from HSD fuel tanker to pump-motor and delivery hose pipe
is connected from pump-motor to crane diesel engine main
tank. The delivery hose pipe is tied to the crane railing in front
of PLC room to stop any movement due to wind. After starting
the pump, the suction valve is opened for delivery of HSD. Final
measurement of diesel will be taken by technician or helper. Once
the tank is full, pump will be stopped, the delivery hose pipe will
be taken out from main tank and moved down to ground using
a rope. The balance diesel in the hose pipe is taken out into a
bucket or container and will be moved to Storeroom along with
the accessories used for refueling. After refueling, the crane will
start as per technician’s command.
The pump used for refueling the crane is a centrifugal pump
called in the local market as “Petrol start, kerosene run pump”.
As the name suggests, the pump starts with petrol and runs
with kerosene. It became obsolete now and only petrol operated
water pumps are available in the market. On a thorough
examination, the casing of centrifugal pump was found to have
an irregular hole of about 10cms in diameter along with a crack
that propagated to the top of the pump. Further examinations of
the edges of the hole which are more pronounced in the bottom
side are found to be from inside out (everted). This shows that
the hole formed was not due to striking with a stone or similar
object/objects but must be due to some violent explosion/
burst that must have occurred inside the pump. View of the hole
with its edges averted Several explosions/bursts of centrifugal
pumps are reported in the literature 1-3. In some cases, these
have resulted in the fatalities, severe burns and damage to the
property. In the publication, “Rise of the machines” Centrifugal
Pump Explosions  mentions that, when a centrifugal pump
continues to operate with closed valves, a certain percent of
the motor power is transferred to the fluid in the casing as heat
energy. Eventually the fluid heats up to boiling temperature
and turns to vapor. The pump then effectively becomes a boiler
The pressure due to the superheated vapor then reaches a
point where it exceeds the strength of the casing or the casing bolts. When this point is reached, the pump either explodes or
bursts under pressure. In the publication, “Case histories of pump
explosions while running isolated”  mentions that, standard
industrial centrifugal pumps that isolate process material (i.e.
“deadheaded” with both suction and discharge valves closed)
inside the pump casing can explode catastrophically if the pump
is inadvertently started and left running (Figure 5 & 6). Case
histories and lessons learned at Tennessee Eastman Division
(TED) involved in pump explosions while running isolated.
Case histories involve both combustible and non‐combustible
process streams where the pump was inadvertently started
and allowed to run isolated until the process material heated
up and built enough pressure to rupture the pump housing
creating a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion).
In KETO Global Pump Solutions , Green Paper, Centrifugal
Pump Explosions 2017 “Centrifugal Pump Explosions” under
“Operating parameters that cause explosion”, 3, mentions that, if
a pump is dead headed the impeller spins in the volute, causing
the temperature of the liquid contained to increase over a period
of time. If the pump suction and discharge lines are closed, there
is nowhere for the liquid to go. If the impeller continues to be
spun the liquid temperature increases until steam is formed.
Unless the steam is relieved by some means, or the pump is
stopped before the casing burst pressure is reached, a pump
explosion will result.
In the above-mentioned papers, the centrifugal pump
explosions occurred when the pump was pumping water. The
type of centrifugal pump used for refueling the crane was also
meant for pumping water only and certainly should not be used
for pumping flammable low boiling point liquids such as High-
Speed Diesel (HSD), wherein, the vapor expansion is faster
leading to severe explosion with fire. During refueling, after
the crane tank was filled, the inlet valve to the crane tank was
closed to avoid reverse flow but the motor was not stopped by
mistake/carelessness and must have been still running, trying
to pump HSD. The temperature of HSD in the impeller increased
due to churning of HSD on the impeller blades and ignited HSD.
Being highly volatile the heated HSD vapor developed enormous
pressure inside the pump resulting in its explosion. Because
of the huge pressure, the burning ejected HSD with great force
spread the fire all along to the bottom part of the crane. The
tires of the crane caught fire which subsequently spread to the
hydraulic system located just above the tires which contained
copious quantity of hydraulic oil further escalating the flames.
Due to high wind prevailing on that day, the coking coal particles
deposited/settled on the tires, on the body of crane acted as fire
accelerants, spreading the flames rapidly. The version of the
owners of the crane was that the fire was caused due to coking
coal catching fire due to self-ignition, moving with the gusty
winds and falling on the tries of the crane is ruled out, as the
fire in coal dust was instantaneous & momentary and could not
sustain for long periods. Further, gusty winds themselves could
extinguish the fire in the coal particles, as they are very thin. The
coal only burns in air and does not produce flame as it does not
It was concluded that the fire incident was due to closing
of the inlet valve of the crane tank, with pump running the
temperature of HSD in the impeller of the pump increased
igniting HSD. The ignited HSD developed enormous pressure
inside pump resulting in the explosion of casing. The burning
HSD ejected with great force on reaching the bottom part of
crane resulted in the tires catching fire. The root cause of the fire
incident was due to using a pump not meant for refueling HSD
and negligence on the part of the concerned in running the pump
after closing the valve.