Chef who escaped gas explosion says he is lucky to be alive

Chef Arafat Khan, who was injured in a restaurant gas explosion in Ballyhackamore last week.

A CHEF seriously injured in a restaurant gas explosion that blew the roof off the building in east Belfast has said he is lucky to be alive.

Arafat Khan, was in his third day of work at the newly opened Clay Oven in Ballyhackamore, when a huge explosion rocked the building last week.

Mr Khan (31) suffered serious injuries in the blast, that caused third degree burns to his right arm leaving him in excruciating pain. He is currently being treated in the Royal Victoria Hospital specialist burns unit.

The force of the explosion lifted part of the roof off the east Belfast restaurant and blew windows out of the building onto the street. The road was closed amid fears that the building's structure may have been damaged.

Belfast City Council has launched an investigation into the explosion, which may have been caused by a build up of gas under a Tandoor oven.

Speaking to The Irish News yesterday Mr Khan claims he twice raised concerns about the specialist oven which is used in Indian cooking and requires specialist installation.

"I had worked Monday and Tuesday, on the Wednesday I started at about 3.30pm, the restaurant opened at 5pm so I was in getting preparation done," he said.

"I had a cup of tea and did my normal procedure which is turn the fan on and then the oven. It's a part of our job, it takes a while to heat.

"I've been a chef for over ten years and that's what we would always do, this is normal procedure."

Mr Khan said he had expressed concerns about the oven, which he said didn't appear to have a working pilot light.

"They told me to just light it physically and they would change it, but they didn't change it. I just do my own job so what else could I do", Mr Khan said.

"I lit the fire and just turned my back and there was a flash, I fell and tried to get up. There was gas in my face, eyes and my throat was burning, I just thought I need to save myself.

"I got out of the kitchen and was just running terrified, because I never faced anything like this before. I just tried to save myself," he said.

Staff at a nearby shop administered first aid to Mr Khan while they waited for emergency services to arrive. As well as sustaining severe burns he suffered respiratory problems as a result of inhaling gas.

"I've have been crying all morning because this is how I make my living and I don't think I can go near fire or the kitchen again", he said.

Mr Khan, who will find out in the coming days if he will require a skin graft, said he is thankful there were not more people in the kitchen as there could have been other casualties.

"I was fortunate that the exit was clear, I was just running for my life, it was really scary, I can't explain it.

"I don't get much sleep I've mentioned this to the doctors, every time I close my eyes it all comes to me.

"My wife and my family are so upset. My wife was crying, my parents think I hurt my hand, but not this bad. They live in Bangladesh, I don't want them to worry.

"I never had this kind of terrifying experience, I haven't looked at any of the pictures of the building, it's too much, I can't think about it," he added.

The Irish News contacted the Clay Oven for a comment but they did not respond.

Following the explosion however the restaurant did post a message on Facebook which said:"As per precautionary measures, the restaurant is now closed until further notice. We apologise for the inconvenience caused".

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