UK oil depot fire continues to rage

Firefighters have been battling a blaze at an oil depot north of London with chemical foam, after resolving concerns that attempts to extinguish the fire could contaminate the water supply.

    Smoke continues to billow from the fuel depot on Monday

    "We are in uncharted territory. This is the largest fire of this kind that the UK and Europe have dealt with," said Roy Wilsher, chief fire officer in Hertfordshire county.

    "We are not even sure how the thermal current will affect the foam that is being applied - it might just vaporise it."

    On Monday, a thick black plume of smoke continued to billow from the

    Buncefield fuel depot 40km north of

    London, the fifth-largest fuel depot in Britain.

    The fire began with a series of explosions before sunrise on

    Sunday, shattering windows and blowing doors off nearby

    homes. Police said the blasts appeared to be accidental.

    Most of the 43 people injured were treated for cuts and

    bruises from the flying glass of broken windows in

    Hertfordshire.

    Two men with more serious injuries remained

    in local hospitals on Sunday night, and one was released on

    Monday, Hertfordshire police said.

    Conditions worse

    Wilsher said that 20 or more tanks at the facility had been

    destroyed but that firefighters had managed to protect

    seven others through the night. 

    "

    The conditions this morning are certainly worse than

    yesterday because of a change of wind conditions

    "


    Roy Wilsher,
    chief fire officer, Hertfordshire county

    "We are using 32,000 litres of water a minute from two

    separate attack points," he said.

    "The conditions this morning are certainly worse than

    yesterday because of a change of wind conditions, so the

    smoke is swirling around the site which makes the

    conditions particularly harsh for our firefighters and the

    oil industry firefighters who are assisting at the site," he added.

    He said firefighters were within a hundred metres

    of the blazing tanks.

    "Conditions will be very harsh. They will be wearing

    breathing apparatus and protective equipment. They will be

    monitored by safety officers, and we will be bringing

    relief in all the time to make sure they are not in those

    conditions for too long," Wilsher said.

    No pollution danger

    Hertfordshire police said earlier that the fire service,

    the Environment Agency and police were all satisfied that

    foam could be used without danger of polluting water

    supplies.

    There had been fears that runoff from the site

    could contaminate surface and ground water with fuel.

    Noxious fumes from the fire
    affected police officers

    The Buncefield terminal, operated by Total UK and

    part-owned by Texaco, stores 16 million litres

    of petrol, diesel, kerosene and aviation

    fuel.

    The national Environment Agency said it was concerned that

    substances including kerosene, diesel, gas oil and petrol

    could mix with the foam and escape from the site and

    pollute surface rivers and groundwater.

    "We've come up with a plan that holds in that water on

    the site in walled areas, called bunded areas, and we are

    having those areas monitored constantly," Wilsher said.

    Noxious fumes from the fire, which left some people

    coughing, affected the large squads of police who

    sealed off the area and evacuated nearly 300 people to a

    bowling alley being used as a temporary shelter.

    About 25

    police officers were examined by doctors for problems such as

    chest tightness or shortness of breath, said Howard

    Bortkett-Jones, medical director of the two local

    hospitals.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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