Over 100 tankers burst into flames at the Afghanistan-Iranian border Saturday afternoon after a fuel truck there exploded, Afghan officials reported.
Citing the officials, The New York Times reported that they had not determined what caused the first tanker to explode at the Islam-Qala customs post on the border with Iran shortly after noon. They expressed alarm Saturday evening that the fire was rapidly spreading at the congested customs complex and could engulf hundreds of more tankers lined up at the border.
Officials in Herat said they could not confirm media reports that up to 500 tankers had already burned and that the blaze had spread to the Iranian customs post on the other side of the border.
At least 17 people were injured, with the number of casualties expected to rise, said Mohammad Rafiq Sherzay, the provincial public health spokesman.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Tariq Saleh said his company, Hnif Merwan, had lost 21 tankers to the fire.
The tankers import fuel and natural gas from Iran. The United States has granted Afghanistan an exemption to sanctions imposed on Iran to import fuel, though US-backed Afghan security forces are prohibited from using it, The New York Times reported.
Iran is Afghanistan's largest trade partner, and the crossing is crucial to the economy of Herat Province and western Afghanistan. Long-term disruption of the crossing could bring hardships to the region.
After the Overfire broke out, the electricity supply from neighboring Iran was disconnected as a precaution, leaving the city of Herat without power as night fell, said Jailani Farhad, a spokesman for Herat's governor.
"All of our forces and our firefighting department are trying to control the fire," Farhad said.
The province's capital, the city of Herat, is about 75 miles east of the border crossing, located on a major commercial transit route between Afghanistan and Iran, The New York Times reported.