MOSCOW: Ten soldiers and civilian staff at a Russian military munitions depot burnt to death while fleeing a fire that sparked a series of explosions, the defence ministry said Wednesday.
The fire broke out Tuesday evening at the storage facility at a military base close to the village of Bolshaya Tura in eastern Siberia. Rescue workers only discovered the victims' bodies the next morning.
"At dawn, as engineers examined the grounds of the military base, a truck was found within the arsenal with 10 people who had died inside," the head of the ministry's press service, Major General Igor Konashenkov, told the Interfax news agency.
He named the dead as the army officer in charge of the depot, a drafted soldier and eight civilian staff.
The defence ministry said the blaze was sparked by a forest fire that leapt over to the base in strong winds and set fire to a store of ammunition.
The depot's commander had tried to drive the staff to safety but the truck "found itself at the epicentre of a sudden blast as a result of which it burnt up in a couple of minutes," Konashenkov said.
The authorities in the Zabaikalye region said Wednesday that 23 people were treated for injuries after the blasts, nine of whom were hospitalised with burns and wounds.
The regional emergency ministry said it evacuated more than 1,000 residents from the nearby village of Bolshaya Tura and temporarily closed the local railway line.
Russia is currently experiencing severe forest fires in eastern Siberia and Far Eastern Russia, with an area of around 70,000 hectares ablaze.
Blasts at the vast number of munitions stores across Russia holding defunct explosives dating from the Cold War are a relatively common occurrence due to ageing infrastructure and lax observance of safety rules as well as their locations close to residential areas.
Russia's Investigative Committee, which probes disasters, said Wednesday it had opened a criminal case into causing death through carelessness.