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Multiple deaths in Indian army ammunition fire

The blaze broke out overnight at a warehouse near the central city of Nagpur, killing at least 17 people. The surrounding area was evacuated.

The fire ripped through one of India's largest military ammunition depots. The facility is located in Nagpur, in the western state of Maharashtra, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) east of Mumbai.

The blaze broke out at 1.30 a.m. local time on Tuesday (21:00 UTC Monday) and flames and smoke continued to pour from the warehouse for more than four hours, officials added.

"Seventeen people have died. Nineteen are injured but are out of danger," Smita Patil, superintendent of Wardha district police, told Agence France-Presse by phone from the scene. She said the fire had been brought under control.

Officials said the dead were made up of army personnel - two officers and 15 junior soldiers.

Residents moved

New Delhi Television broadcast footage which showed flames lighting up the night sky. The channel reported that the fire was caused by an explosion, and that thousands of villagers had been moved from the area in case of secondary explosions.

Firefighters using ten fire engines worked through the night to contain the depot blaze, Ramesh Barde, a fire officer with the Nagpur fire department, told AFP.

Defense Ministry spokesman Nitin Wakanker would only confirm that a fire had broken out, adding that details would be released after they emerged from the site.

India's military has a history of fires and other accidents that have been blamed on lax safety standards, including a blaze on a submarine that left two officers dead off the Mumbai coast in 2014.

In 2007, a similar incident in Indian Kashmir wrecked an ammunition dump, exploding artillery shells and mortar rounds, which rained down on surrounding villages. At least 17 people were killed and two dozen injured.

Another fire ripped through an ammunition depot in Kolkata in 2010, destroying 150 tones of explosives and ammunition.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "pained by loss of lives", adding on Twitter that his "thoughts are with the bereaved families".

mm/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)