“Mecca of Ammunition” says a board outside Pulgaon’s Central Ammunition Depot, Asia’s biggest. A fire there yesterday killed at least 19 people, including two Army officers and many fire-fighters who had rushed to douse the blaze that broke out a little after 1 am.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who visited Pulgaon in north Maharashtra on Tuesday afternoon, said the exact cause of the fire would be known only after inquiry, but added, “We are not ruling out any possibility…there is no sabotage as such.” He also said it was “too early to speculate about the cause.”
Firemen fought the flames for over six hours, losing at least 13 colleagues one by one. The two Army officers who died, Lt Col RS Pawar and Major K Manoj, the chief security officer of the depot, had rushed towards the flames to prevent crucial ammunition from being blown up. 17 people were injured.
Two more bodies were recovered today. They are yet to be identified. One person is missing.
As evening descended over Pulgaon, in Maharashtra, on Tuesday, the conversation veered towards the firemen who lost their lives, among them locals.
“Local people are among those firemen who died. There also are those jawans who have retired and are now again in service,” said a bespectacled man outside the depot gate.
Agargaon village, located at one end of the sprawling 7,000 acre defence property, was one of about 10 villages near the ammunition depot that was evacuated as the fire broke out. By evening the residents were back, but were visibly shaken as they stood outside their homes late into the night.
“After the explosions we are scared. So people are staying in the open till late,” said a villager Visheshwar Kokande, as his wife pointed at their goat and a lamb, adding that the animals too were agitated.
The impact of the explosions nearly 5 km away are clearly visible in the village.