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Russian arms depot fire halts oil pipeline flows

(Reuters) / 3 June 2011

MOSCOW - Russian authorities battled a blaze raging through an arms depot on Friday that halted oil pipeline flows from the country’s top crude producer and forced tens of thousands to be moved out of the area.

President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to sack army officers responsible for the blaze, which followed a fire at another arms storage depot. ⅛ID:nLDE74P27R⅜. Two such incidents in close succession point to a systemic problem, he said.

“If they don’t understand it the easy way, then we will again have to remove their chevrons,” Medvedev told a meeting of his Security Council, state-run RIA news agency reported.

Last summer Medvedev sacked several senior officers for a major fire at a base outside Moscow during a record heatwave that triggered massive wildfires across Russia.

State television showed flames colouring the night sky orange and sparking explosions overnight at the military complex near the city of Izhevsk 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow.

Two people died of heart attack during the fire — the second at a Russian munitions store in less than a week — and at least 45 were injured, the local health minister in the central Russian region told news agencies.

By morning, a thick cloud of smoke rose from the depot, which stores more than 10,000 tonnes of artillery shells.

A Defence Ministry official said there were two or three loud blasts every minute.

Russia’s pipeline monopoly Transneft said it had stopped receiving 161,000 barrels per day (bpd), or 22,000 tonnes, of oil on a domestic pipeline after the blasts.

Transneft spokesman Igor Dyomin said one of its pipelines had stopped receiving 131,000 barrels per day of oil from Russia’s top crude producer Rosneft.

Shipments from producers LUKOIL and Russneft, equal to 30,000 barrels per day, had also been halted.

“The pipeline stopped getting oil from 0100 Moscow time on Friday. Customers are still getting oil as we have reserves,” Dyomin said.

Rocket propelled missiles

The depot near the village of Pugachyovo housed munitions scheduled for disposal which were equivalent in power to about 58,000 tonnes of TNT, Russian agencies reported.

“There is a sizable store of rocket-propelled missiles stored at the depots but they are encased in a 60 cm (25 inch) -thick cement storage site. They will not explode,” Deputy Defence Minister General Dmitry Bulgakov told the state Itar-tass news agency.

He added that an investigation had been launched into the causes of the fire. A military source told the Interfax news agency it would take at least two days to douse the blaze.

Nearby residents said the force of the explosions blew out the windows of their homes.

“There was an explosion and then a fire. The windows shattered and everything shook,” resident Klara Taufikovna told the local news portal www.Izhlife.ru.

“We were all very frightened, we didn’t know what to do, where to run or even what happened.”

Wearing only a nightgown, another elderly resident told Vesti-24 state television: “We were sleeping, I grabbed my grandchild. Look, I’m only wearing slippers ... Everything was blowing up,” she said.

Last week, 12 people were injured and 40 buildings were damaged in a fire at munitions storage depots in Bashkortostan.

A military serviceman was suspected of being behind the incident, local investigators said. It caused estimated damage worth 100 million roubles ($3.5 million).

Blasts and fires at munitions depots in the former Soviet Union have often been caused by negligence.

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