It could have been so much worse, at least in terms of human life, but today’s explosion and raging fire at Buncefield oil terminal in Hertfordshire is still one of Britain’s worst ever industrial accidents. The fire service says it is Europe’s worst incident of its kind since the second world war.
One person was seriously injured and 36 slightly hurt after a massive explosion, which could be heard 60 kilometres away, ripped through the depot. The site contained millions of litres of various liquid fuels. The blast seriously damaged a number of buildings in the surrounding industrial estate, and nearby houses.
The Buncefield depot services Luton and Heathrow airports, and is one of Britain’s biggest fuel storage facilities. Security guards on duty reported smelling gas before the explosion, and there is now an overpowering smell of petrol and aviation fuel in the area. The cloud of smoke is now the size of Greater London, stretching east, and raising health and pollution fears. The fire continues to burn out of control, and could last for days with further explosions expected.
Local residents were confronted by chaos. Some were convinced a plane had crashed, others that there had been an earthquake. The depot is also a major supplier of fuel and gas to the entire south-east of England, and it appears none of the giant storage tanks in the plant have survived unscathed.
Atmospheric pollution rapidly made the wearing of masks outdoors essential, and residents were warned to stay indoors. Motorists were told to avoid the area around Hemel Hempstead, and nearby motorways were closed.
It seems the blaze may have to be left to burn out before any investigation into the cause can be attempted. The police seem convinced this was an accident and not something more sinister.