Dozens hurt as massive blaze erupts on Afghanistan-Iran border

Thick plumes of black smoke rise high into the sky after fuel trucks go up in flames; officials say cause of fire not immediately clear.

Plumes of black smoke are seen at the Islam Qala border crossing in Afghanistan on the border with Iran [Screengrab via Reuters]

A massive fire has engulfed a customs post in Afghanistan after fuel trucks caught alight, injuring many people and prompting authorities across the nearby Iranian border to send fire engines and ambulances, officials said.

Several local people battled to control Saturday’s blaze in the border town of Islam Qala, which initial reports said had started after a gas tanker exploded. Officials later said the cause was not immediately clear.

Waheed Qatali, governor of the western province of Herat, said Iranian authorities and NATO-led personnel in Afghanistan had been asked for urgent assistance to contain the fire, which damaged electricity infrastructure, leaving much of Herat’s eponymous capital city without power.

Rescue workers and Afghan security forces moved hundreds of fuel and gas tankers from the area, while the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission was contacted with a request to provide aerial firefighting assistance, Qatali said.

Thick plumes of black smoke and flames rose high into the sky around the scene, television pictures showed.

“People were scared. They were fleeing the area. We also left the area and went home,” witness Din Mohammad was quoted as saying by TOLOnews.

“Everyone was terrified. They were escaping. Cars were stuck,” Khalil Ahmad, another witness, told the Afghan news outlet.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, the governor in Iran’s Razavi Khorasan province across the border, said his country has immediately set out to help those still stranded in the area and is keeping its border open to the people fleeing the area.

“Communications are ongoing between the two countries,” he said in a statement, adding that there is currently no credible information on potential damages or casualties.

Regional emergency official Mohsen Nejat told state television Iran had sent 21 ambulances and 20 fire trucks to the scene.

A Western official monitoring the situation told Reuters news agency at least 60 people had been injured so far. Afghan officials gave a lower casualty number, but said it could rise. Mohammed Raffia Shiraz, a spokesman for Herat’s health department, said 17 injured people were taken to hospital.

More than 300 vehicles carrying gas, diesel and petrol exploded, Hossein Akhundzadeh, a regional Iranian trade official, told Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA.

“It’s not known whether the drivers were able to escape or not. The blaze has not been contained yet and exact information is not available,” he said.

Wahid Tawhidi, a spokesman for power distribution company Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat, said 100 megawatt (MW) of electricity imported from Iran to Herat province had been disconnected because two pylons had burned down.

He said 60 percent of Herat, one of Afghanistan’s largest provinces, was without power.

Younus Qazizada, the head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce and Industries, told Reuters the blaze had caused millions of dollars in damage.

“Preliminary investigations show that more than $50m of damage has been caused by the fire so far,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies