WATCH: 17 killed in India army ammunition depot fire
Mumbai - 17 soldiers, including two officers, had been killed in the fire near the city of Nagpur in the state of Maharashtra.
A huge fire swept through one of India's biggest arms depots on Tuesday, triggering an explosion and killing as many as 17 people, army and regional officials said.
Firefighters battled during the night to bring the flames under control at the depot in Pulgaon, 600 km (373 miles) from Mumbai, the country's financial capital.
There were fears that the death toll may rise because many personnel of the Defence Security Corps (DSC) that provides security at defence ministry sites were missing at the depot, some 120 km from here.
The officials said the fire started between 1.30 and 2 am when flames were seen billowing out of a shed. It spread quickly to a number of other sheds storing explosive items in the depot that was recently awarded for using solar energy to dispose off expired ammunition.
Fire broke out after midnight, triggered explosion
Two army officers among the dead
Cause of the fire not yet known, officials say
The fire, which is now under control, forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby villagers, a regional official, Shailesh Nawal, told Reuters, adding that 17 people had been admitted to hospital, two of them in serious condition.
Among the dead were two army officers who went to the site when the fire broke out after midnight, to gather people and help douse the flames, Brigadier Sandeep Bhalla said.
"Once they were fighting the fire, the explosion must have taken place and they all died," he told Indian television.
The cause of the fire is not known, officials said, adding that a tally of dead could not be confirmed because rescue teams had not been able to check all parts of the depot.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was pained by the loss of lives and had asked Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to visit the site.
The army has ordered an inquiry into the fire, officials said.
Eyewitnesses said flames were still rising from parts of the depot. The army as a precaution got five villages evactuated as the fire was spreading. However, some 1,000 men and women from these villages returned to their homes by the afternoon.
The army has ordered a court of inquiry into the incident and the extent of damage to defense assets was being ascertained, officials requesting anonymity said.