How we tackled Europe's biggest peace time blaze.(Oil Depot Inferno)(Cover story)

At 0602 on Sunday December 11, Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service Control Centre received the first of over 60 calls to an incident at the Buncefield oil depot area of Hemel Hempstead near to the M1. Other surrounding control centres received another 150 calls. Eight minutes later the officer-in-charge of the initial attendance from Hemel Hempstead, Sub Officer ion Batchelor, declared a major incident.

A MASSIVE EXPLOSION AT THE oil depot one of the five largest depots in the UK was heard up to 300 kilometres away. The blast, which measured 2.4 on the Richter Scale, blew windows out of homes up to three kilometres away and devastated the surrounding industrial estate including the total or partial collapse of numerous commercial buildings which, during the working week, would be occupied by several thousand workers.

Although 40 people were hurt in the explosion, fortunately nobody was seriously injured or lost their life. The initial crews were confronted with a scene of unprecedented destruction covering several square kilometres which has been described as the largest incident of its kind in peace time Europe. As well as setting fire to the oil storage tanks and causing the devastation, the blast had destroyed the oil depot control centre, the emergency water supply pump houses, completely obstructed perimeter roads with fallen trees and the intensity of the fires meant that two of the three emergency open water supplies were inaccessible

The alarm was raised by a site employee and this saw the quick evacuation of the site which fortunately, due to the day of the week (Sunday) and time of day, contained only six employees. …

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