Fuel tanker blast causes massive fire at Afghan-Iran border

HERAT, AFGHANISTAN (AP) — A fuel tanker exploded yesterday at the Islam Qala crossing in Afghanistan’s western Herat province on the Iranian border, injuring at least seven people and causing a massive fire that consumed more than 500 trucks carrying natural gas and fuel, according to Afghan officials and Iranian state media.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the blast. Herat’s Provincial Governor Wahid Qatali said Afghan first responders did not have the means to put out the fire and had requested support from Iran in the form of fire fighting aircraft.

“For the time being, we can’t even talk about the casualties,” Qatali told The Associated Press.

The intensity of the flames meant ambulances were having trouble reaching the wounded or getting close to the site of the blast, said spokesman for the Herat regional hospital Mohammad Rafiq Shirzy.

Seven people injured by the fire have been admitted to the hospital in Herat so far, he said. The fire has forced Afghanistan to shut down its electrical supply from Iran, leaving Herat in the dark, said spokesman for the Ministry of Power Supply Wahidullah Tawhidi.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that following the request from Herat’s governor, Iranian “rescue forces and fire fighters are underway to extinguish the fire inside Afghanistan”, according to Director-General of Crisis Management in Iran’s Khorasan Razavi province Mohsen Nejat.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted truck drivers as saying more than 500 trucks carrying natural gas and fuel have been burnt so far.

The fire spread to the Dogharoon customs facilities on the Iranian side and first responders — including the fire department, the Iranian army and border forces — were assisting in extinguishing the blaze, according to Iranian state television. Trucks carrying natural gas and fuel were directed to leave the scene.

The Islam Qala border crossing is around 120 kilometres west of the city of Herat. It is a major transit route between Afghanistan and Iran. The United States allows Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran as part of a special concession that exempts Kabul from sanctions against Iran.

As the fire burned into the night, Afghan security services set up checkpoints and were assisting ambulances and emergency vehicles traveling to and from the border crossing to the city. The road between Herat and Islam Qala is a dangerous stretch of highway that Afghans rarely travel at night for fear of attacks by criminal gangs.