Athani (Kerala)/Madurai (TN): Nine persons were killed in two different fire accidents at cracker factories at Athani in Thrissur district in Kerala and in Madurai district in Tamil Nadu.

Five persons were killed and seven others suffered serious burn injuries when a cracker manufacturing unit caught fire and exploded at Athani in Kerala's Thrissur district on Wednesday.

At least 12 persons were suspected to be at the unit when it caught fire at around noon. Police sources said one person was missing.

A huge quantity of explosive substance was stored in the unit, which was yet to start manufacturing operations, police said.

At Madurai, four persons were killed and two others injured when fire broke out at a fire cracker unit at V Sockalingam Patti in the district. Police said electrical short circuit could have caused the incident.

The deceased in the Athani fire accident were identified as Vasu Pilla (48), Bablu (45), Anil, Radhakrishnan and Joffy (34), son of the owner of the cracker unit. Bablu hailed from Bihar, police said.

The godown and cracker unit is located in a remote hilly area of a rubber estate. The spot can be reached only by foot. Police sources said while two bodies were recovered from the accident spot, two of the injured succumbed in hospital.

The condition of some of the injured was critical, they added. Even as the fire tenders tried to douse the fire, explosions could be heard, preventing police and fire force personnel from nearing the spot.

Many houses were damaged and several rubber trees in the estate were burnt in the incident. At Athani, police and fire force personnel found it very difficult to reach the spot as it was a hilly area.

Prasad, an injured worker, said there were at least 10 workers at the spot when the mishap occured. He said he was eating lunch when there was a loud sound, followed by a fire.

Eyewitnesses said the impact of the explosion shattered window panes of nearby houses.

Police suspect at least 2000 kg of crackers might have been stored in the godown when it caught fire. Enquiries are on to ascertain what was the exact quantity stored in the unit, they said. Thrissur District Collector P M Francis said financial assistance had been given to the victims' relatives and the injured, transporting the bodies to the hospitals and other expenses.

Thrissur City Police Commissioner P Vijayan said investigations are on to find out the cause of the explosion.

All the five bodies have been brought to the Thrissur Medical College Hospital, he said, adding one among the dead is from Bihar and all the others from Kerala.

Of the injured, all of whom have suffered serious burns, one has lost his eyesight and another his right leg, he said.