YEREVAN — At least 15 soldiers were killed and three others were injured in a fire that broke out at 1.30 am on January 19 at an engineer-sapper company of a military unit stationed in the border village of Azat in Armenian province of Gegharkunik, some 110 kilometers east of Yerevan, the Ministry of Defense said today.

Despite the fire and rescue operations deployed on the spot, the fire killed, according to preliminary data, 15 servicemen and three more were seriously injured.

Citing the preliminary findings of military investigators, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Defense Minister Suren Papikyan blamed it on a serious violation of fire-safety rules.

Pashinyan said an officer of the unit used a large amount of gasoline to start a fire in a woodstove heating the barracks. He said the Armenian army’s General Staff strictly banned the use of gasoline and other highly inflammable liquids for such purposes in a written order issued as recently as on December 21.

“Primitive compliance with this order would have prevented the accident,” Pashinyan added during a weekly session of his cabinet.

Papikyan announced during the cabinet meeting that about a dozen senior officers have already been sacked over what was one of the deadliest non-combat accidents ever registered in Armenia’s armed forces.

The sacked officers included Vahram Grigoryan, the commander of the army’s Second Corps stationed in Gegharkunik. Grigoryan’s three deputies and the chief of the Defense Ministry’s fire-safety service were also fired.

The victims and seven other soldiers stayed in an abandoned village house turned into a barracks. Pashinian acknowledged that their living conditions were challenging.

“But that doesn’t matter,” he said. “Fire-safety regulations must be observed in any place of residence.”

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