A fire caused hundreds of fuel tankers to explode at the Afghanistan-Iran border on Saturday, injuring 17 people and damaging trade and humanitarian services in the western Afghan province of Herat.

The blaze broke out in the early afternoon at Islam Qala port, 120 kilometres from the city of Herat, engulfing the tankers that were parked nearby after crossing the border from Iran.

As the fire burnt into the night, the Afghan security forces set up checkpoints and helped ambulances and other emergency vehicles travel to and from the border crossing to Herat.

“According to our estimate, around 500 vehicles were in the parking lot of the border and were damaged,” said Yunus Qazizada, head of the Chamber of Commerce and Investment in Herat. “Our initial figures show that around $40-50 million worth of equipment and goods are affected,” he said.

The explosion incinerated customs infrastructure in the area.

Several businesses at the border were damaged by the fire, which also destroyed a large humanitarian centre for returning Afghan refugees.

Herat governor, Sayed Wahid Qatali, confirmed the large-scale damage. “Our security forces have done everything possible. We moved around 1,500 cars to Iran and another 500 vehicles inside our own border. We also moved around 400 vehicles towards Herat. We are doing everything in our capacity,” he said.

While it is still unclear what triggered the explosion, officials and witnesses told The National that the blaze started with small-arms fire. This led to a fire among fuel tankers carrying liquid petroleum gas.

Mr Qazizada, however, blamed the Afghan Ministry of Transport for the tragedy. “We are very disappointed in the Ministry of Transport’s new regulation where they keep the vehicles for two weeks at the Islam Qala customs,” he said.

Read full report on The National