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Fire tears through Poland weapons factory, killing 1 worker

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Berlin — A fire at a weapons factory in southeast Poland left one worker dead and another injured on Monday, local police spokesperson Jarosław Gwóźdź told CBS News. There was no immediate information of the cause of the Monday morning fire at the Mesko weapons plant in the city of Skarżysko-Kamienn. 

Gwóźdź said it was unclear whether the blaze had been caused by an explosion, as widely reported, but it sent shockwaves through the local community and raised concerns about safety protocols in Poland's arms industry.

The incident took place in one of the production units of the Mesko factory, igniting a fire that quickly spread through the facility. Emergency services arrived promptly, but by the time fire crews managed to douse the flames there was significant damage to the building.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, according to local police. Preliminary reports suggested it may have been triggered by a malfunction in production equipment, but officials did not immediately rule anything out. A team of experts, including representatives from the Polish government and independent safety inspectors, was assembled to carry out a thorough investigation into the incident, Gwóźdź told CBS News.

Gwóźdź said the case had been handed over to Polish national prosecutors and federal police.

Mesko produces a wide range of weapons and ammunition, including shoulder-fired air defense missiles, portable anti-tank and anti-personnel missiles and small arms ammunition. Some of the systems made by Mesko are among the weapons Poland has sent to Ukraine to help the neighboring country as it battles to fend off Russia's ongoing invasion.

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The explosion came as the U.S. State Department announced that it was establishing an operation in Poland's capital city to help Ukraine counter disinformation spread by Russia. The U.S. State Department's disinformation-focused Global Engagement Center said in a statement posted online that, in conjunction with Poland, it had launched the Ukraine Communications Group, "to support Ukraine against Russia's aggression in the information space."

Polish officials, along with those in Britain, Germany, France and other European nations, have reported an increase in attempted sabotage and other disruptive actions blamed on Russia's secret services. Russia routinely dismisses such claims of meddling as "Russia-phobia" and paranoia.

There was no immediate suggestion by any Polish official of any suspected nefarious action at the Mesko factory on Monday.

Poland, a member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance that shares a long border with western Ukraine, has been a hub for weapons shipments from the U.S. and other partners to Ukraine.

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The Polish Armaments Group (PGZ), a holding company established by the country's government to group many of Poland's biggest arms manufacturers together, said in a statement that a special commission had already begun work at the Mesko facility, "to investigate the circumstances of the incident, including analyzing the circumstances that led to it, verifying existing procedures, and making recommendations for changes to ensure maximum work safety." 

Mesko, one of the prominent manufacturers of arms and ammunition that falls under the PGZ umbrella, offered its condolences to the family of the employee who was killed and pledged full cooperation with the ongoing investigation.

"We are devastated by this tragic event and are committed to understanding the cause to prevent such incidents in the future," the company said.

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