An artillery ammunition depot near the Siberian town of Bira caught fire on April 27, forcing the evacuation of nearly one-half of the town’s 4,500 inhabitants — but not the inmates and guards of a nearby labor colony. The explosions blocked traffic on the Trans-Siberian railroad for more than a day. Some 60 freight and 25 passenger trains were held up. Bira is in the Jewish Autonomous Region and lies some 200 kilometers northwest of Khabarovsk. Local authorities at first blamed the disaster on a forest fire, but later said that "gross violations" of regulations on the part of some of the garrison’s servicemen had caused the fire. The first blast occurred at 2:25 pm local time and shells were still exploding the next morning, sending fragments more than 10 kilometers. Although the explosions and resulting fires caused considerable damage, no casualties were reported. (Interfax, RIA Novosti, April 27-28)
Over the past several years the region has been plagued by a number of similar military disasters. In August 1994 another munitions depot in the Jewish Autonomous Region — located some 100 kilometers south of Bira — also blew up, forcing the evacuation of the nearby town. That same year there was a catastrophic explosion at a navy ammunition depot in Novonezhinsk, near Vladivostok. In May 1992 an ammo dump on the outskirts of Vladivostok burned and exploded for two days. In March 1995 an ammunition dump near the Chinese border in Russia’s Maritime region blew up.
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