A massive fire has swept through a market in the Afghan capital, Kabul, destroying hundreds of shops and forcing the city's nearby money exchange to evacuate.

"Police helped the money market evacuate and remove their money from the market to safe places"

- Kabul police official

Authorities confirmed Sunday's blaze had engulfed most of the downtown cloth market's 500 shops, but caused no casualties.

Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from the site, said: "Inside hundreds and hundreds of shops have been burnt. The shopkeepers tell us that they have tens of thousands of dollars in the shops."

"Much of the merchandise has also been destroyed. It’s going to be very difficult to estimate the damages here, but it’s probably worth millions of dollars," she added

Kabul fire department officials told the AFP news agency that an electrical short circuit was the most likely cause of the fire, which was so severe that NATO and Afghan army fire squads were called in to help.

"We are all working together to get this under control," the official said.

An AFP photographer at the scene said the fire had reduced hundreds of shops to charcoal.

A Kabul police official who also spoke under condition of anonymity told AFP separately that the nearby currency exchange market, the war-torn country's largest, had to be evacuated as the fire approached its outer walls.

"Police helped the money market evacuate and remove their money from the market to safe places," he said.

Kabul, which is home to around five million people, has a poor fire safety reputation, though the fire department was upgraded with international help after the fall of the Taliban regime in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies