A searing blaze that raced through fuel tankers on the northern edge of the Afghan capital of Kabul has killed seven people and injured 14 others.
Investigators combed through dozens of smouldering tankers on Sunday and a petrol station caught in the flames that roared through the area late Saturday, said interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian.
Arian said authorities were still investigating how the fire started and did not yet know the cause, but he ruled out a “terrorist incident”.
It came on the same day the United States and NATO officially began the final phase of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending a nearly 20-year military engagement.
All of the 2,500 to 3,500 US soldiers and about 7,000 NATO allied forces will be out of Afghanistan at the latest by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks in the US that first brought them into the country.
Arian said the fire began when a spark set a fuel tanker ablaze. Several tankers nearby were quickly engulfed, sending giant flames and plumes of smoke into the night sky before the fire moved on to several homes and a nearby gas station. Several structures were destroyed and electricity to much of Kabul, which usually has only sporadic power, was knocked out.
The wounded were being treated mostly for burns in local hospitals. Truck drivers on Sunday blocked the road leading to the area, demanding the government provide compensation.
‘Vehicle to vehicle’
One driver, Haji Mir, said the explosion was deafening as trucks were lined up entering the city.
“The first explosion sounded like a mine explosion,” he said. “There were flames shooting from one truck and then a second truck exploded, and a third.” He estimated as many as 100 trucks may have ignited.
Obaidullah, a resident in the area, said the fireballs were enormous. His family and neighbours ran into their yards.
“Fire lit up the sky,” he said. “Drivers were yelling that their co-drivers were stuck and were burning.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene but their capacity was limited and it took hours to bring the blaze under control. On Sunday morning, flames still leapt from the smouldering ruins.
In mid-February, a huge fire occurred on the border between Afghanistan and Iran involving hundreds of trucks and containers worth millions of dollars after a fuel truck exploded. At least 17 people were injured.