It was a still night, crisp and cold. I’d finally arrived to camp 3 on Annapurna, 6500m. It was a crucial step towards becoming acclimatized for a nO’s ascent of Annapurna (climbing without bottled oxygen) . This is the most notorious of all the 8000m peaks. Another team was also arriving to Camp 3. Camp 3 is situated on a small platform, atop a large serac (fin of ice), flanked by a 100ft ice cliff. Teetering blocks of ice sit overhead that occasionally crash down. A few days earlier, the Spanish team lost a cache here, from just such a collapse. This camp did provide shelter from a more frequent hazard, avalanches.
The other team and I had all settled in for the night, when a fire ball erupted into the night sky!
I rushed out of my tent, the fire was mere feet away. The only door of my one man tent led directly into the fire. I could feel the heat against my face, as I stumbled backwards. The climbers inside the now burning tent rushed out the back door, as the fire hissed and not losing an ounce of strength. Everyone was standing outside now either in liners or just socks. A big danger was to slip off camp 3 into the void and if not for the quick hand of a Sherpa, this would’ve been one of their member’s fate.
The Sherpa and I, suddenly noticed with the tent fabric of the vestibule burnt away, fuel canisters and oxygen bottles inside the fire!
Here is a short video I took after the fire was put out.
Our immediate reaction was to start throwing snow and snatching these now explosive devices out of the inferno. To my surprise, the snow being tossed at the fire was quite effective. All the while, fuel canisters and oxygen bottles being snatched and tossed out of the fire haphazardly. It was quite the scene!
The whole event lasted less than five minutes before a silent darkness descended back over the camp. The tent was tattered, many belongings burnt but everyone was whole. Which unfortunately, twenty-four hours from then would not be the case.
Reflecting on the incident, the conclusion I’ve come to is that one of their fuel canisters was likely punctured by a crampon while setting camp. It then was thrown inside the vestibule where it created a gas bubble. I don’t believe canister fuel is scented with sulfur. So, unwittingly they struck a match to start-up stoves for water or dinner which is when the fire ball erupted and the ensuing chaos.