Reuters International

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A huge fire swept through one of India's biggest arms depots on Tuesday, triggering an explosion and killing as many as 17 people, army and regional officials said.

Firefighters battled during the night to bring the flames under control at the depot in Pulgaon, 600 km (373 miles) from Mumbai, the country's financial capital.

The fire, which is now under control, forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby villagers, a regional official, Shailesh Nawal, told Reuters, adding that 17 people had been admitted to hospital, two of them in serious condition.

Among the dead were two army officers who went to the site when the fire broke out after midnight, to gather people and help douse the flames, Brigadier Sandeep Bhalla said.

"Once they were fighting the fire, the explosion must have taken place and they all died," he told Indian television.

The cause of the fire is not known, officials said, adding that a tally of dead could not be confirmed because rescue teams had not been able to check all parts of the depot.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was pained by the loss of lives and had asked Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to visit the site.

The army has ordered an inquiry into the fire, officials said.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Malini Menon; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Clarence Fernandez)

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