Fuel tanker explosions on Afghan-Iran border spotted from space

Two explosions of fuel tankers at the Islam Qala border crossing between Afghanistan’s western province of Herat and Iran were powerful enough to be spotted from space by NASA satellites on Saturday afternoon.

One of the explosions happened at about 1.10pm Afghanistan time and the other about half an hour later at 1.42pm local time.

According to local officials the fire started at about midday when a fuel tanker exploded at the customs facility at the border crossing.

This caused a massive fire that consumed more than 500 trucks carrying natural gas and fuel, sources and Iranian state media indicated.

Younus Qazizada, the head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the fire had caused millions of dollars in damage. “Preliminary investigations show that more than $50 million of damage has been caused by the fire so far,” he said.

The Islam Qala border crossing is around 120km west of the city of Herat, and is a major transit route between Afghanistan and Iran.

The US allows Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran as part of a special concession that exempts Kabul from US sanctions against Iran.

It wasn’t clear early Sunday what caused the blast but officials said the fire was being investigated. The exact number of casualties was also not known although at least a dozen people had been taken to hospitals on Saturday night for injuries sustained in the fire.

Wahid Qatali, Herat’s provincial governor, told The Associated Press on Saturday night: “For the time being, we can’t even talk about the casualties.”

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