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Photograph: Photo by Goran Necin, used under CC BY-SA

Seventeen soldiers were killed in a major blaze at India's largest munitions depot in the western state of Maharashtra on Tuesday, defence officials and police said.

Two officers and 15 junior soldiers died in the blaze at the Central Ammunition Depot in Pulgaon in Wardha district, deputy police chief Smita Patil said.

Nineteen more were critically injured, but were "out of danger," she said by phone.

"The main fire has been extinguished. The situation is under control," she said.

Some 600 people living in nearby areas had been evacuated from around the depot, reported to be the second largest in Asia.

The fire broke out at around 1:30 am (2000 GMT Monday) and quickly spread in the complex. Witnesses said they heard several explosions. Television footage showed flames lighting up the night sky.

Scores of firefighters worked for about five hours to contain the blaze.

Ammunitions expert Brigadier Sandeep Bhalla told broadcaster NDTV that among the 17 who died were two army officers who had tried to keep some of the explosives from blowing up.

An investigation was launched into the cause of the blaze; officials did not rule out accident or sabotage.

"Pained by loss of lives caused by fire at central ammunition depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was expected to visit the site later on Tuesday.

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