A massive fire that erupted at one of India's largest military ammunition depots yesterday killed at least 16 soldiers and firefighters, reigniting safety concerns about military equipment and installations.
The blaze broke out in the early hours at the high-security facility which stores bombs, grenades and other ordnance outside the central city of Pulgaon. Flames lit up the night sky.
Thousands of families were evacuated from nearby towns and villages in the western state of Maharashtra for fear of secondary explosions at the huge depot.
India's director general of military operations, Ranbir Singh, said two army officers, one soldier and 13 firefighters were killed in the blaze, updating earlier reports quoting officials of 17 soldiers dead.
"Two officers and 15 personnel ... were also injured" and taken to hospital, Lieutenant General Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
A probe has been ordered into the cause of the blaze, which started at 1:00 am and was confined to one of the numerous sheds storing "highly sensitive ammunition", an army statement said.
Firefighters using 10 engines worked through the night to contain the blaze which was finally brought under control just over five hours later, Ramesh Barde, a fire officer from the nearby city of Nagpur, told AFP.
The facility, spread over 2,800 hectares, is one of the largest in India and provides ammunition for the army, navy and air force. Trains transport stockpiles on kilometres of railways lines around its grounds, according to an expert.
India's armed forces have a history of fires and other accidents which are sometimes blamed on lax safety standards. Yesterday's was the worst incident since a submarine fire killed 18 sailors three years ago.