One Colonel, one Major, one army jawan and 13 firefighters killed as fire engulfs Central Ammunition Depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra.
At least 16 defence personnel, including two Army officers, were on Tuesday killed in a massive fire that broke out at one of Asia’s biggest ammunition depot in Maharashtra’s Pulgaon that houses the largest stockpile of weapons in the country.
The fire, which started at 1 am at one of the sheds that housed ‘highly sensitive ammunition’ in the high security central ammunition depot, spread over 7,000 acres, has been completely doused and the situation brought under control after an overnight operation.
“However, in efforts to douse the fire, two officers and 14 personnel (to include one army jawan and 13 civilian fire fighting staff) lost their lives and two officers and 15 personnel (to include nine army jawans and six civilian fire fighting staff) were injured,” Director General of Military Operations Lt Gen Ranbir Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
Loud explosions were heard one after the other as the raging fire lit up the night sky.
The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained and the army has instituted an inquiry into the incident, Singh said.
“Actions to assess the damage are in progress,” the DGMO said. The army had earlier put the casualty at 17 which has now been revised to 16. It had also earlier said the majority of personnel killed were Defence Security Corps jawans.
Following a directive from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was in Pune, rushed to the spot. Army Chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag also visited the site.
Modi tweeted, ‘Pained by loss of lives caused by a fire at central ammunition depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra. My thoughts are with the bereaved families. I pray that those who are injured recover quickly. Have asked RM @manoharparrikar to visit the spot & take stock of the situation (sic).’
CAD, Pulgaon is located at about 115 km from Nagpur, in Maharashtra.
Stocks -- including bombs, grenades, shells, assorted rifles, missiles and other explosives -- from various factories come here first and then distributed to various forward areas.
As per initial reports, the fire started in one of the sheds at approximately 1 am, and immediate action was taken by the fire fighting parties and Quick Reaction Teams located in the depot by putting the fire fighting mechanism into place as per the laid down procedures.
“This restricted the fire to one shed only which contained highly sensitive ammunition,” Lt Gen Singh said.
The injured personnel have been evacuated to Multi-SpecialtyHospital, Wardha (35 Km from Pulgaon) and are undergoing medical treatment.
The medical condition of the injured personnel is reported to be stable, the DGMO said, adding army medical teams have been moved from Pune to provide specialist medical attention.
He expressed deep condolences to the families of the brave hearts who have lost their lives while protecting and securing the important ammunition depot.
The intensity of the fire was so high that people in the villages around were woken up to a loud noise, with their houses shaking.
The window panes and tiled-roofs of houses in the villages were shattered and the residents felt as if they were being rattled by an earthquake and many ran out in panic. They said they saw flames raging at the site of the mishap with smoke billowing to the skies.
Pravin Savarkar, who along with his wife and aged mother ran to safety, said that the intensity of the fire and blast was such that utensils in their house were thrown off the shelves.
Some of the villagers, particularly the elderly residents, calmed others as they could guess what was happening as similar incidents had taken place at the depot earlier also.
Tuesday’s was the third major incident in the CAD in Pulgaon.
Similar incidents had also occurred in 1989 and 1995, but no loss of life was reported though ammunition worth crores was then destroyed.
The fire at the ammunition depot, situated between hillocks on either side, came as a shock to the residents of Agargaon, Pipri, Nachangaon and Magejhari villages.
Magejhari is the closest village to the depot with a population of 1,500 people, Nachangaon has about 2,500 residents, Agargan 3,500 and Pipri has a population of 800.
A youth, who lives in the depot quarters, said as soon as the fire occurred, most of the villagers ran out of their houses and spent time till dawn in great anxiety.
The district administration, police and fire brigade personnel reached the site within a short time.
But the fire and the blast in the stores were so huge that it damaged two four-wheelers and a fire brigade vehicle inside the complex.
Inspector General of Police, NagpurRange, Ravindra Kadam also rushed to the ammunition depot, but he and his subordinates were not allowed to enter the complex.
Kadam later visited the injured personnel at Sawangi Meghe hospital where they were being treated.
He said that the toll may go up from 16.
The deceased include two Army officers -- Major M Manoj, who was chief security officer with the ammunition depot -- and Colonel Randheer Pawar from Kolhapur, sources said.
Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said there was no sabotage involved in the fire, but the exact cause would be known only after inquiry.
"We are not ruling out any possibility but there is no sabotage as such," he told reporters.
Fire was contained with timely help from all the concerned persons and only a complete inquiry will reveal its cause, Parrikar said.
It is too early to speculate about the cause, he added.
Parrikar, who visited the injured personnel at the DattaMegheMedicalCollege and Hospital at Sawangi Meghe in the district, said 130 tonnes of anti-tank mines were destroyed in the fire.
However, the 16 persons who lost their lives while trying to douse it succeeded in saving the ammunition stored in nine other sheds, the minister said.
Parrikar, accompanied by the Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, spent more than half an hour meeting the injured personnel at the hospital.