Sixteen people, including two Army officers, died in a fire at the Army’s biggest ammunition depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra, on Tuesday. Seventeen people, including two Army officers and nine personnel, were injured in the accident, which occurred at 1 am.
The cause of the fire has not been ascertained so far. “Actions to assess the damage are in progress. An inquiry has been ordered by the Army,” said Lt General Ranbir Singh, Director General of Military Operations.
Central Ammunition Depot (CAD), Pulgaon, located about 115 km from Nagpur, is spread over an area of more than 7,000 acres and stores a variety of ammunition and explosives in a large number of sheds. The CAD comes directly under the Army headquarters and is responsible for the all-India supply of ammunition and explosives, after receiving them from Ordnance factories and other sources. The CAD then supplies these items to various ammunition depots and field ammunition depots for replenishing their stocks.
The fire started in one of the sheds at 1 am and the Quick Reaction Teams and Fire Fighting Teams restricted it to that one shed. In the initial efforts to douse the fire, two Army officers, one Army jawan and 13 civilian firefighting staff lost their lives.
The shed where the fire started contained highly sensitive ammunition, sources said. They said that another four sheds were in the range of the one that caught fire. According to sources, these shed contain ammunition for artillery guns and anti-tank land mines. Army officially refused to comment on the what was kept in the sheds.
Two Army officers, nine Army jawans and six civilian firefighting staff were injured and evacuated to a multi-speciality hospital in Wardha, 35 km from Pulgaon. The Army has moved its special medical teams from Pune to provide attention to the injured.
Wardha collector Shailesh Naval told The Indian Express that three of the injured were in a critical condition. “The fire was controlled by 6.30 am,” he said. “Five villages around CAD were evacuated but as soon as the danger subsided, the villagers were taken back to their homes.” The depot has been cordoned off.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Army Chief General Dalbir Singh visited the depot, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed shock at the incident and conveyed their condolences to the families of the victims.
“We are not ruling out any possibility but there is no sabotage as such,” Parrikar said.
In recent years, there have been several fires at ammunition depots, with the last one in West Bengal’s Panagarh in 2010. In 2007, a huge fire broke out at a depot in Khrew in Jammu & Kashmir’s Anantnag district, injuring at least 25 people. The biggest fire at an ammunition dump was in 2000 in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, where two people died. This led to a review of the safety procedures of the Army’s ammunition depots and a modernisation plan was framed for all ammunition depots around the country.