Rocket engine catches fire at testing range in S. Russia, hundreds evacuated

FILE PHOTO: Explosive charge detonates during military exercises "Center-2011" on the Ashuluk range in the Astrakhan region. © Alexey Kudenko
A huge explosion has struck an ammunition depot at a military firing range in southern Russia. The Defense Ministry said a rocket engine caught fire. Around 600 people have been evacuated.

The incident took place at Ashuluk testing range near the city of Astrakhan in southern Russia.

According to TASS sources, rocket boosters used to launch spacecraft into low Earth orbit have caught fire in the depot. Life.ru report the engine is from an S-75 high-altitude air defense system.

At least 600 people were evacuated from the site of the incident. This included residents of a nearby town, but not the personnel of the testing range.

Firefighters managed to localize the blaze, RIA Novosti reported, citing EMERCOM sources.

The blaze was accompanied by heavy explosions. According to preliminary information, the depot contained spare parts, including rocket engines. They exploded,” a local security source told RIA Novosti.

Initial reports suggested 50 people were killed in the fire, but the Defense Ministry said no one was hurt.

“The blaze was accompanied by heavy explosions. According to preliminary information, the depot contained spare parts, including rocket engines. They exploded,” a source told RIA Novosti.

Ashuluk testing range is used to launch surface-to-air missiles and is a site for drills. It has seen several incidents in recent years. In 2011 an explosion caused by a spontaneous launch of the main engine killed eight people at the range.

Two servicemen were killed in a projectile explosion in 2013.