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9 killed as firefighters battle a blaze that destroyed Argentine banking archives

Smoke rises from the Iron Mountain warehouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. Nine first-responders were killed in the fire that destroyed an archive of bank documents, according to authorities. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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Smoke rises from the Iron Mountain warehouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. Nine first-responders were killed in the fire that destroyed an archive of bank documents, according to authorities. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Nine first-responders were killed and seven others injured as they battled a fire of unknown origin that destroyed an archive of corporate and banking industry documents in Argentina's capital on Wednesday.

The fire at the Iron Mountain warehouse took hours to control and at least half of the sprawling building was ruined despite the efforts of at least 10 squads of firefighters.

The nine firefighters and civil defence workers were crushed when a brick wall collapsed on top of a large group of first-responders on the sidewalk and street outside. Tearful rescuers removed rubble by hand to reach their comrades.

"It took them completely by surprise," said Argentina's Security Secretary Sergio Berni said. "Some of the injured are fighting for their lives."

Berni said Iron Mountain also had employees inside the building when the fire started early Wednesday, but all the employees and firefighters were accounted for by early afternoon.

The destroyed archives included documents stored for Argentine corporations and banks, said Buenos Aires security minister Guillermo Montenegro.

The cause wasn't immediately clear. Berni said the company's on-site firefighters shared some details with authorities, and Iron Mountain said it too will investigate.

"All of this will end up in court," Berni said, declining to make any details public.

If the cause is found to be arson, it wouldn't be the first time for Boston-based Iron Mountain Inc., which manages, stores and protects information for more than 156,000 companies and organizations in 36 countries. Fire investigators blamed arson for blazes that destroyed its warehouses in New Jersey in 1997 and London in 2006, prompting rounds of legal claims over lost records.

Iron Mountain issued a statement saying "we are deeply saddened by the deaths of the brave first responders who rushed to save our facility. Our thoughts are also with those who have been hospitalized, and we wish them a quick and complete recovery."

"We will investigate the cause of the fire and work closely with local investigators, police and fire authorities to understand what happened. The building was equipped with both fire-detection as well as a sprinkler system," the company said, adding that it is contacting its customers whose documents were lost.

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