The toll from the inferno at the central ammunition depot in Pulgaon has reached 18 after the recovery of two more bodies from the debris. They have been identified as: Amol Yesankar and Amit Dandekar.
An army officer identified two among the dead as Lt Col RS Pawar and Major K Manoj, the chief security officer at the depot at Pulgaon, around 110km from Nagpur.
The dead and injured soldiers were from the Defence Security Corp (DSC) that guards strategic defence installations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was “pained by the loss of lives”. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar later visited the site and met the injured in hospital.
The Pulgaon depot -- Asia’s second largest -- stocks ammunition including bombs, grenades, shells, assorted rifles and other explosives from various factories before they are distributed across states.
Villagers near the depot said they were woken up by a booming sound followed by rattling of window panes. When they rushed out in panic, they saw massive flames lighting up the night sky at Pulgaon.
The blaze also triggered multiple explosions forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people. The people, however, allowed to return in the afternoon after the fire was completely doused.
According to unofficial sources, the dead also included two fire brigade personnel who battled through the night to control the blaze that started at around 1.30am. At least 20 fire tenders were pressed into service.
All the injured persons were rushed to a private run medical college at Sawangi where the condition of three was said to be critical. Hospital dean Sandip Shrivastava said: “Most of the patients complained of hearing loss while others had splinter injuries and burns.”
“The fire has been completely doused and situation brought under control. However…two officers and 14 personnel lost their lives and two officers and 15 personnel were injured,” director general, military operations, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said in Delhi.
The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. The army has ordered a probe into the incident.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the accident had caused a “great loss of lives and property”.
“It’s a very unfortunate incident. Many of our men were killed in the blaze,” he told reporters.
The Pulgaon depot -- Asia’s second largest -- stocks ammunition including bombs, grenades, shells, assorted rifles and other explosives from various factories before they are distributed across states. Surrounded by hillocks on either side, the depot has had its brush with blazes in past — in 1989 and 1995, though no loss of life was reported on both occasions.
In 2007, a fire wrecked an ammunition dump in Jammu and Kashmir, exploding artillery shells and mortar rounds, which rained down on surrounding villages. At least 17 people were killed and two dozen injured.
A fire also ripped through one of the army’s largest ammunition depots in 2010 in Kolkata, destroying 150 tonnes of explosives and ammunition. No one was killed in the accident.
(With agency inputs)