Thick smoke billowing from Chennai port triggered panic among passers-by on Sunday evening, but it turned out to be a minor fire. There were no casualties or damage to property. The fire was put out in an hour, port officials said.

The fire broke out around 4.4.5 p.m., at a garbage yard, near a truck maintenance shed. Four condemned tyres belonging to a private firm were destroyed.

Though the fire was brought under control very soon, footage of the smoke, aired on television channels, brought hordes of people to the port, causing traffic snarls in the area.

Port officials said the tyres had earlier been removed from a few lorries parked at the maintenance shed.

As it was not a working day, there were only a few people on the port premises. Officials said no one had gone to the garbage yard for several months.

Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) chairman Atulya Misra said, “There were no casualties, injuries or damage to property. The source of the fire is not known and the matter is being investigated.”

Denying that ChPT lacked adequate safety measures to meet such eventualities, another official said the fire could have begun due to someone tossing away a lit matchstick or a cigarette butt. “However, details will be known only after the completion of the probe,” he said.

Jawahar dock, where the fire broke out, is used for handling general cargo and coal. Since handling of coal has been suspended since October 2011, the yards were empty.

Since February 2005, ChPT has seen two major fire mishaps. The first one occurred at a coal yard, but there were no casualties. In August 2010, an abandoned oil storage tanker caught fire from a spark set off by welding work nearby. Then too, there were no casualties.

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