May 31, 2016 / 5:32 AM / a year ago

Fire, blast at Indian arms depot kills at least 16

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A huge fire swept through one of India’s biggest ammunition depots on Tuesday, triggering an explosion and killing at least 16 people trying to douse the flames, government officials said.

Firefighters battled through the night to bring flames that soared into the sky under control at the depot in Pulgaon, 600 km (373 miles) from the city of Mumbai.

The dead included three soldiers and 13 civilian fire fighters, the defense ministry said in a statement, while 17 people were injured.

The fire, which started after midnight in a shed storing ammunition, forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby villagers, regional official Shailesh Nawal said.

Among the soldiers killed were two officers who had rushed to the site when the fire broke out, and had gathered people along the way to help fight the flames and stop ammunition from igniting, Brigadier Sandeep Bhalla told Indian television.

“Once they were fighting the fire, the explosion must have taken place and they all died,” he said.

The cause of the fire was not known, the defense ministry said, adding that the army had ordered an inquiry. It was the latest of several fires at Indian arms depots in recent years.

The Pulgaon depot, spread over 2,800 hectares (7,000 acres), is a store for various types of ammunition, explosives and missiles, media reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was pained by the loss of lives and had asked Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to visit the site.

Some villagers reported damage to their houses after the explosion but they returned home after the fire was brought under control.

Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Malini Menon; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Clarence Fernandez

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