Russian Rocket Sparks Deadly Fire: How It Happened

After a successful launch of Russia's Progress cargo spacecraft headed to the International Space Station, falling fragments caused a fire on Kazakhstan's steppes, killing one and injuring another who tried to extinguish the fire.

The uncrewed Progress spacecraft launched toward the International Space Station yesterday (June 14) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the craft deployed its solar arrays and began its long series of orbits to rendezvous with the space station.

The fire started 375 miles (600 kilometers) away from the launch site, as the rocket's discarded first stage fell back to Earth, according to a BBC report and Russian Space Web. The area was the planned drop zone for the rocket stages, but a strong gust of wind over the flames proved fatal to a worker extinguishing the fire, and another was hospitalized with serious burns.

"Due to difficult weather conditions in the drop zone, a steppe fire emerged in a desolate location," said officials from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, as reported by the Russian News Agency TASS. "There is no threat to the population. The fire has been localized."

The killed and injured responders worked for the Russian firm NPO Mashinostroyenia, which maintains the drop zones, TASS said.

The Progress spacecraft is carrying almost 3 tons (2.7 metric tons) of food, fuel and other supplies to the space station crew; the craft is scheduled to dock on June 16 at 7:42 a.m. EDT (1142 GMT).

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Sarah Lewin
Associate Editor

Sarah Lewin started writing for in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.