GPUR, May 31: At least 17 army men, including two officers, were killed and 19 injured in a massive fire that engulfed one of India’s largest ammunition depots in Maharashtra’s Pulgaon early Tuesday, officials said. The cause of the blaze at the depot, spread over an area of more than 7,000 acres, which houses Brahmos missiles, arms, ammunition, bombs and other explosive items of the Indian Army, was not immediately known. There were fears that the death toll may rise because many personnel of the Defense Security Corps (DSC) that provides security at defence ministry sites were missing at the depot, some 120 km from here. All the injured have been admitted to a super speciality hospital at Wardha and a team of especialised doctors from Pune has also rushed there.
The officials said the fire started between 1.30 and 2 a.m. when flames were seen billowing out of a shed. It spread quickly to a number of other sheds storing explosive items in the depot that was recently awarded for using solar energy to dispose off expired ammunition.
“Two officers and 15 DSC soldiers died,” an army spokesperson said, adding the injured included two officers and 17 soldiers.
The spokesperson said the main fire has been brought under control. “But secondary fire and explosions cannot be ruled out now.”
Eyewitnesses said flames were still rising from parts of the depot. The army as a precaution got five villages evactuated as the fire was spreading. However, some 1,000 men and women from these villages returned to their homes by the afternoon.
The army has ordered a court of inquiry into the incident and the extent of damage to defense assets was being ascertained, officials requesting anonymity said.
Prime Minister rendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadvis expressed grief over the loss of lives in the tragedy.
“Pained by loss of lives caused by a fire at Central Ammunition Depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra. My thoughts are with the bereaved families,” Modi tweeted.
Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and Indian Army Chief General Dalbir Singh were set to visit the depot that that supplies ammunition to the entire western sector of the Indian Army. (IANS)