Many firefighters among dead at India munitions depot blaze

Sixteen people including 13 firefighters were killed in a major blaze at India's largest munitions depot on Tuesday, defence officials said, lowering the toll of soldiers who died in the fire.

Two army officers, a junior soldier and 13 firefighting staff died in the blaze at the Central Ammunition Depot in Pulgaon in the western state of Maharashtra, Director General of Military Operations Ranbir Singh said in Delhi.

Defence officials and police said earlier that 17 soldiers had died, but the senior army official later clarified the toll.

"We could restrict and contain the fire to only one shed. The fire was completely doused and the situation is under control. [The] army has ordered an inquiry to investigate the accident," Singh said.

Seventeen others, including nine soldiers, were injured and in a stable condition.

The cause of the fire at the depot, which broke out at around 1:00 am (1930 GMT Monday), was not yet known. Scores of firefighters worked for about five hours to contain the blaze.

Some 600 people living in nearby areas were evacuated, local police said. Scores of homes in the vicinity were destroyed in the fire, witnesses told news channels.

Witnesses said they heard several explosions. Television footage showed flames lighting up the night sky. When the first blast occurred, "it seemed as if there was an earthquake in Wardha," a local woman told NDTV.

The stores reportedly house missiles, arms, ammunition, bombs and other explosives.

"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 visiting the site later Tuesday.

There have been a number of fires at military ammunition depots in India in recent years.

A huge fire at the Panagarh depot near an airbase in eastern India in 2010 destroyed a large cache of arms and ammunitions but there were no injuries.

In 2007, thousands of Kashmiri villagers were evacuated after a blaze enveloped a depot in Anantnag district.

In 2002, another fire at an ammunition depot in Rajasthan state claimed two lives and destroyed 65 trucks in a series of explosions.

Last update: Tue, 31/05/2016 - 15:04
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