The blaze began at 1:30 am at the depot in Pulgaon, near Nagpur, with television footage showing flames lighting up the night sky.
“17 people have died. 19 are injured but are out of danger,” said Smita Patil, superintendent of Wardha district police.” An operation is in progress and the fire has been brought under control,” she added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will visit the depot today. At 11 am, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that he has been informed that the fire has been contained.
Ammunitions expert Brigadier Sandeep Bhalla told NDTV that among the 17 who died were two army officers who tried to keep crucial explosives from blowing up. The injured reportedly include the Commanding Officer of the depot who was leading efforts to protect the ammunition. However, NDTV does not have independent confirmation of this.
Thousands of families living in nearby towns and villages have been evacuated from around the depot, the largest ammunition centre in India and the second-largest in Asia.
The army has ordered a Court of Inquiry or investigation; sources said they cannot confirm if the fire was an accident or sabotage. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is expected to visit the Pulgaon depot in a few hours.
Firefighters using 10 fire engines worked through the night to contain the blaze, said Ramesh Barde, a fire officer with the Nagpur fire department.
“The fire broke out at 1:30 am and nearby fire engines reached the venue by 2:30 am,” he said.
“The fire was brought under control by 6:15 am. The situation is under control and a report is being prepared,” he added, speaking from the scene.