NAGPUR: At least 16 people, including two military officers, were killed and 20 were injured when a fire raged through and triggered multiple explosions at India’s biggest weapons stockpile in Maharashtra’s Wardha district on Tuesday.
Among the dead were 13 firefighters, who had rushed to contain the blaze that broke out at 1.30am and continued till 11.30am. “Seven bodies were thrown in the air and landed in pieces,” an officer said.
The two dead officers are Lt Col RS Pawar and Major K Manoj, the chief security officer at the depot at Pulgaon, around 110 km from Nagpur.
The dead and injured soldiers were from the Defence Security Corp (DSC) that guards strategic military installations. The Pulgaon depot stocks bombs, grenades, shells, assorted rifles and other explosives from various factories before these are distributed to military units in the western sector.
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.
The army is conducting an inquiry into the cause of the fire, which was initially thought to be sabotage. Reports suggest the explosions occurred after a shed at the ammunition dump caught fire.
An injured soldier said the cause of the explosion could be unused and old bombs that were kept for disposal.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who visited the site along with the army chief Dalbir Singh Suhag, did not rule out foul play.
“Everything will come out after the investigation,” he said. Villagers near the depot said they were awakened by the explosions that shook their houses and rushed out in panic. The explosions forced authorities to evacuate more than 3,000 people to safety.
All the injured people were rushed to a medical college at Sawangi. Hospital dean Sandip Shrivastava said: “Most of the patients complained of hearing loss while others had splinter injuries and burns.”
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. (With agency inputs)