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Fire at Russian munitions depot injures dozens, forces evacution

By Maxim Tkachenko, CNN
  • 57 people are injured, 25 hospitalized, in explosion in Russia's western Urals
  • Ministry officials say 28,000 people have been forced to evacuate
  • The cause of the fire is under investigation, officials sayu
  • Russia

Moscow (CNN) -- Dozens of people were injured and 28,000 people had to evacuate after a fire broke out at an army munitions depot in Russia's western Ural Mountains region, authorities said Friday.

Fifty-seven people were treated for injuries related to the fire, regional health authorities in Izhevsk told CNN. Of those, 25 people were hospitalized, according to the health authorities.

Two elderly women who lived a short distance from the munitions depot died of stress-related heart attacks, Russian news agencies reported. CNN could not independently verify the reports.

The fire began shortly before midnight Thursday at military base in Pugachevo, about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) east of Moscow, the officials said.

Flames and heavy smoke from what appeared to be explosions could be seen in the distance as fire and safety crews worked to put out the fire, according to video footage on Russian state TV.

The fires forced evacuations within a a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) radius around the depot.

The depot stored gun cartridges and artillery shells, Col. Roman Dmitriev, spokesman for the Russian Military Prosecutor's Office, said on Russian state TV.

The munitions that exploded were stored in wooden containers in the open air, said Grigory Rapota, the plenipotentiary representative in the region for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Other munitions stored inside concrete structures were not affected.

"Thank God, not everything exploded," Rapota said.

The cause of the fire and subsequent explosions was under investigation, the officials said.

This was the second major accident involving munitions exploding at a Russian army arsenal in recent days. A similar fire and series of subsequent explosions hit an artillery depot in the nearby region of Bashkortostan last Thursday. Twelve people were injured and 40 buildings were burned down, leaving more than 100 people homeless.

Speaking at a Russian national security meeting Friday, President Dmitry Medvedev gave Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov a dressing down.

"Two cases -- that is already a system," he said. "Come up with your proposals as to who should answer for that and to what degree ... If people (generals) don't understand it the good way, shoulder-straps will have to be stripped off again," he said, referring to rank insignias.