Explosions, evacuations after fire at military warehouse in Siberia

A state of emergency has been declared in a Siberian district where a fire at a military warehouse used to store artillery shells set off a series of huge explosions, Russian state news agency TASS reported.

Thousands of residents are being evacuated from the 20 kilometer (12 mile) zone around the base near the city of Achinsk, TASS said, quoting the Russian Emergencies Ministry.

“We have organized temporary accommodation centers in the kindergartens and schools of the settlements of Solnechny and Mazul,” the emergency department’s press service said, according to TASS.

Explosions shook the city for at least five hours on Monday as the fire raged in the Krasnoyarsk region, around 3,000 kilometers (2,000 miles) east of the Russian capital Moscow, TASS reported.

Images published on social media and by local Russian media showed flames shooting into the air and huge plumes of smoke billowing over Achinsk, which had more than 109,000 residents in 2013, according to the latest United Nations population figures.

Emergency personnel have been sent to the area, according to a statement from Achinsk district officials. At least one person has reportedly been killed and a number of people have been injured, TASS reported.

Businesses in the area were also affected. Rusal, the largest producer of aluminum outside China suspended operations at its Achinsk refinery plant and evacuated almost all staff members on Monday, according to a Rusal spokesperson. It restarted its production on Tuesday.

It’s not yet clear what caused the warehouse fire, but vast wildfires have been blazing in Siberia for weeks, fueled by exceptionally hot weather.

The average June temperature in Siberia was almost 10 degrees higher than the long-term average between 1981 and 2010, according to Claudia Volosciuk, a scientist with the World Meteorological Organization.

In Siberia, the fires span an area almost the size of Belgium, Reuters reported, while others are raging in Greenland and parts of Alaska.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a faster rate than the global average, providing the right conditions for wildfires to spread, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS.

“The number and intensity of wildfires in the Arctic Circle is unusual and unprecedented,” Parrington said.