NUR-SULTAN — It was unclear what caused the fire on August 26 at the military facility in the province of Zhambyl where engineering explosives were stored, Defense Minister Nurlan Ermekbaev told a press briefing on August 27.
He said arson or sabotage could not be ruled out.
Four military personnel and one firefighter died while battling the blaze, which triggered a series of 10 blasts, Ermekbaev added, saying the stored explosives had come from a facility in the town of Arys after a similar 2019 event that killed four people.
Separately, Ermekbayev told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service that he had tendered his resignation after the accident, but that any final decision on his future in the post would be made by the country’s leadership, a reference to President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev.
Authorities evacuated hundreds of people from three villages located less than a kilometer from the ammunition warehouse to the regional capital, Taraz, and closed the main road linking the province to the Central Asian nation’s largest city, Almaty.
Also closed was a key Central Asian rail network in the area that links Almaty to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, and the Uzbek town of Termiz, which is a main regional gateway to Afghanistan.
Hundreds of military personnel, police officers, and medics were mobilized to help the rescue efforts.
A video shared on the Telegram messaging app that could not be verified showed a column of smoke billowing from a fire before a powerful explosion sent a ball of flame into the sky.
In 2019, an explosion at an ammunition warehouse near the town of Arys in the adjacent Turkistan region killed four people and injured dozens of others.