Emergency services struggled to prevent the spread of a deadly fuel depot fire outside Kiev on Tuesday and three firemen were reported missing after the blaze triggered a powerful explosion.
The fire burned overnight and by morning had spread to at least 16 tanks, most of them storing petrol. That sent a huge pall of black smoke over the area surrounding the depot near Vasylkiv, 30 km (19 miles) from Kiev.
“At the depot, entire fuel tanks have been destroyed. Nearby, 100 metres (330 ft) away, there’s another fuel depot and the main thing is to prevent the fire reaching it,” emergency services chief Valeriy Borysov said in a televised briefing.
Three firemen were unaccounted for after an explosion ripped through the area as they battled the fire.
At least 11 people were injured in the fire and one later died in hospital, local media reported. Some 62 fire-fighting units and three trains delivering water and supplies have been mobilised, emergency services said.
Rescuers started evacuating people from the area within a two kilometre radius from the fire and will widen the exclusion zone to 10 kilometres if necessary, top security official Oleksandr Turchynov said in a televised briefing at the scene.
He also warned of the threat of the fire spreading to a nearby military facility.
“There is a serious danger … because 50 metres from the edge of the fire is a military facility and there is some military arsenal there,” he said, adding that they had started removing equipment to places of safety.
Interior Ministry official Zoryan Shkiryak said police were investigating three possible causes for the fire.
These included “violations of fuel storage regulations, technical malfunctions or arson,” the ministry quoted him as saying.
The owner of the depot, BRSM-Nafta, said in a statement it believed the fire was the result of an arson attack, aimed at damaging its business.
Of the 16 fuel tanks affected, eight had a capacity of 900 cubic metres, while the rest were smaller in volume, the emergency ministry said. The overall capacity of the depot is 25,000 cubic metres.