Afghanistan Sends Investigators to Sift Through Ashes After Blaze Near Iran Border

By Storay Karimi and Orooj Hakimi

HERAT, Afghanistan, Feb 15 (Reuters) – The Afghan government on Monday sent officials to the western province of Herat to investigate a blaze that tore through a customs post close to the Iranian border over the weekend, officials said.

At least 60 people were injured as hundreds of fuel vehicles exploded in the blaze, disrupting power supplies and causing millions of dollars of damage.

The cause was unknown.

Herat police spokesman Abdul Ahad Walizada said a 10-person investigating team included four officials from Kabul, including a director of the criminal division of the interior ministry.

Herat’s governor Waheed Qatali told media that there were no reports of deaths and they were still investigating.

A tanker caught fire, triggering the blaze, but the cause of that fire was still unclear, he said.

Amin Babak, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Investment, said around 600 vehicles waiting to complete customs inspections had been damaged in the fire. More than half contained fuel and gas and some had been looted, he said.

He said losses for Afghan traders were estimated at around $100 million, another blow for Afghanistan’s economy which is already struggling due to conflict compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Omar Joya, chief economist at the Kabul-based Biruni Institute, said that the blaze could lead to a temporary increase in domestic oil prices, but that importers had sufficient capital to import new oil so prices would likely stabilise relatively quickly.

(Reporting by Storay Karimi in Herat, Hamid Shalizi, Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Additional reporting and writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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