4 citizens helped to douse van fire

Surveillance camera shows four citizens, including two shop assistants, trying to extinguish the fire in a crashed van on Friday before the firefighters arrived.

Four citizens were among the first to try and extinguish the fire in a van that crashed into 17 pedestrians near People’s Park on Friday before the firefighters arrived.

Their efforts were particularly important as police believe that they may have helped in preventing an explosion as the van was carrying a steel cylinder, six liquid gas storage tanks, three plastic water bottles filled with gasoline and another four with gasoline residue.

Surveillance cameras showed two shop assistants rushing out from a coffee shop and using handheld fire extinguishers to douse the fire.

Two passers-by joined them in trying to put out the fire.

The shop assistants rushed back to the coffee shop twice to fetch more fire extinguishers.

Yu Fenghua, one of the shop assistants, said he heard a loud bang and people screaming. He rushed out and saw a smoke-filled van with three or four people stuck between the vehicle and a tree.

Yu and his colleague Ma Xiao joined some passers-by to move the van and rescue the injured people. Then somebody shouted that there was a fire and asked for a fire extinguisher.

They rushed back to the store and returned with six extinguishers, spraying the dry powder into the van from the broken windows. 

They also taught others how to use the device.

“Not everybody knew how to use the fire extinguisher. We told them to pull the plug and press the knob as we had been taught,” said Yu.

They fetched another four fire extinguishers from the shop after the first six ran out.

After two to three minutes, the fire looked like it was extinguished. But it broke out again when the firefighters arrived, who then put it out completely.

Both Yu and Ma said they were scared after learning later that the van was carrying inflammable materials but at the time of accident, “the only thing in our mind was to do our bit.”

Police said the driver, a 40-year-old man surnamed Chen, was braking at the time of the accident as the van’s rear brake light was on.

Surveillance cameras also showed Chen was smoking at the time but he tested negative for alcohol and drugs.

The fire broke out in a third-row seat, where a cigarette butt was found, according to investigators. Police said there were no other people in the van. 

Chen was rushed to the hospital on Friday for emergency treatment as he fell into a coma following cardiac arrest after inhaling too much smoke after the accident. Police said he worked for a metal company in Shanghai and was illegally delivering gas cylinders.

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