At least 17 security 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.
Two officers, including a Lieutenant Colonel, and 15 Defence Security Corp (DSC) jawans were among those killed in the blaze that started around 2am, an Army officer said.
Also, at least 19 security personnel were injured in the fire that has spread to a number of sheds that houses ammunitions, bombs and other explosive items. Some of them with burn injuries are in a critical condition, he said. Video footage showed the raging fire lighting up the night sky.
Following a directive from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is in Pune, has rushed to the spot. Army Chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag has also headed for 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", he said.
The injured were evacuated to the nearby military hospital in helicopters.
Hundreds of families of nearby villages have been evacuated, officials said.
"The main fire at one of the sheds has been extinguished. The situation is being stabilised. Secondary fire and explosions is in the process of being controlled," the Army officer said refusing to go into the reasons of the fire.
Several fire engines were pressed into service to douse the fire.
Army has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
The central ammunition depot at Pulgaon is India's biggest ammunition depot as stocks including bombs, grenades, shells, assorted rifles and other explosives from various factories comes here first and is then distributed to various forward areas. Pulgaon is 110 kms from Nagpur.
"I am given to understand that Defence Minister will be visiting the site and this itself is an evidence of how serious and concerned is the Central government. My heart goes out to the families of jawans and officers killed and injured in the incident. The nation stands by them," Minister of State in the PMO Jitender Singh said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said there has been "large scale destruction" of lives and what was kept in the ammunition depot.