A Kazakh man died and another was hospitalised after they were caught in a fire on the steppes triggered by falling debris from a Russian space launch, Russian and Kazakh authorities said Thursday.
The blaze, reaching 15 kilometres (9.5 miles) across, was unleashed by parts of a rocket that fell to earth on Wednesday after a launch from the nearby Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan's emergency situations committee spokesman Ruslan Imankulov told AFP. The rocket had been used to successfully launch a supply ship destined for the International Space Station (ISS), according to Russia's space agency Roscosmos.
Both men were employed clearing up debris from the launch by NPO Mashinostroyeniya, a major Russian rocket company. The company blamed "difficult meteorological conditions" for the blaze including a temperature of 34 degrees Celsius and winds with gusts of up to 15 metres per second, in a statement released Thursday.
The company said in a statement that the truck the deceased man was driving was smothered by flames "after a particularly strong gust of wind". NPO Mashinostroyeniya identified the dead man as Yuri Khatyushin, and his colleague receiving hospital treatment in the Kazakh steppe town of Zhezkazgan was named as Vyacheslav Tyts.
The company "will provide all necessary assistance to the families of the deceased and the (injured) victim," the statement read. Imankulov told AFP the local fire service had been notified by a citizen that a "dry grass fire" was raging around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Zhezkazgan at around 1325 GMT on Wednesday.
The fire broke out in the "planned fallout zone" for the Soyuz 2.1a rocket, which blasted off from Baikonur at 0920 GMT (3:20 pm local time), according to Imankulov. It was extinguished by around 2100 GMT on Wednesday, he said. The Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is the main hub for launches to the ISS. Zhezkazgan is the closest major town to the site, where astronauts currently land on their return from the ISS.