The site at Goripalayam a potential disaster area

A major disaster was averted by alert staff at a petrol station after a youth set himself on fire at the Goripalayam junction in the city on Monday evening.

The unidentified youth died on the spot after he immolated himself with the help of a cigarette lighter. The blaze that spread to petrol pumps in the vicinity was immediately put out by the employees by means of a fire extinguisher and sand around 7.15 p.m.

A pump operator, D. Arockiaraj (40), sustained burns on his hands when he pushed the youth. He has been admitted to the Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH).

The station manager, R. Senthil Kumar (27), said he felt a “burning sensation” on his right hand as he joined his colleague in pushing the “human torch” away from the inflammable pump zone. The youth succumbed to third-degree burns within a few minutes, some 10 feet away from the pumps that straddle two roads linking Sellur with Goripalayam.

The incident was over in a few minutes. Police moved the charred remains of the youth to the Government Rajaji Hospital nearby.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) R. Thirunavukkarasu, who inspected the spot, said that the youth was charred beyond recognition. His motive was not clear. The police have collected few materials that was strewn around the scene of fire.

The site is a potential disaster area where pedestrians and vehicles converge, serving as a conduit for traffic crossing the Vaigai river from the southern side of the city and headed to the northern end via the Goripalayam junction.

Eyewitness account

It was Senthil Kumar who first noticed the youth around 7.15 p.m. A drop of petrol fell on him as Senthil Kumar was walking from the pump to his office along the Palam Station Road. With no power supply in the area, Senthil Kumar mistook it to be water.

“The youth had covered his face with a monkey cap and a black cloth. I thought he was drenching himself with water which splashed on me. I ignored him and continued to walk towards our office,” the manager said.

When he turned towards his office, he saw the youth spraying the liquid on the pumps too. While Senthil Kumar charged towards him, Arockiaraj, who was near the pump, also ran towards the youth.

But, within a fraction of a second, the youth lit his lighter. “There was fire everywhere, on him and on the pump. He did not raise any slogan and died within a few minutes,” Senthil Kumar recalls.

Meanwhile, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam functionary, Mahaboob John, said that the party general secretary Vaiko was rushing to Madurai to pay homage to the victim.

Inspector General and Commissioner of Police Sanjay Mathur told The Hindu that preliminary inquiries indicated that the victim was a Muslim. It is likely that he might have visited the adjoining dargah. “Initial indications are that he does not belong to any outfit or organisation. It looks like the victim might even have been mentally unsound,” he said.

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