Buncefield 10 year anniversary

'We just saw flames climbing hundreds of feet into the sky'

Hertfordshire remembers largest fire in peacetime Europe

11 December 2015 marks ten years since the explosion and fire at the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

At 6:02 on Sunday 11 December 2005, a fuel vapour explosion equivalent to 30 tonnes of TNT at the depot triggered a blast wave which was heard as far away as Holland.

Miraculously nobody was killed in the explosion or the three day blaze which followed - the largest ever in peacetime Europe.

Jon Batchelor was in charge of the first fire engine on the scene. He said: "Everyone heard the bang so we were ready for a big fire but nothing could have prepared us for the scene we were confronted with. As we arrived at the business park we could see flames climbing hundreds of feet into the dark sky, making it almost seem like daylight. It was a scene of utter devastation, with buildings severely damaged and glass and debris lying across the road.

"It was simply the biggest fire that I had ever seen and I immediately radioed the control room and declared it a major incident. That's normally a big decision, and one that would be taken by someone a lot more senior than me, but in the circumstances it was a very easy call to make."

Hertfordshire's response helped form today's national template for tackling major incidents. The lessons learnt from the incident also led to improvements in how fire services work together and plan for similar events in future.

Roy Wilsher, Chief Fire Officer and Gold Commander for the incident, said: "The Buncefield fire was by far the biggest incident the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has ever dealt with, and I'm very proud of our response. We had plans to tackle an incident at the site and thankfully those worked well. To give you some indication of scale, we used 53 million litres of water and nearly 800 thousand litres of foam to bring the fire under control. Over 1000 members of staff from across a range of services played a role in our response. 

"Our fire fighters worked incredibly hard with colleagues from across the country and it's a testament to their professionalism that we managed to contain the blaze."

At the time 370 businesses and 3,500 jobs were affected by the explosion but since 2005, Hertfordshire County Council and Dacorum Borough Council have helped the Maylands Business Park recover and it's now a thriving business centre once again.

Richard Thake, Hertfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: "Make no mistake, the Buncefield explosion was a disaster. Not in terms of loss of life, but certainly measuring huge damage done to the local economy and people's lives. It speaks volumes that the county council and its partners have been able to re-establish the Maylands Business Park which is, once again, a thriving hub of enterprise." 

  The business community has responded so strongly that George Osbourne recently announced the creation of an Enterprise Zone in West Hertfordshire including Maylands Business Park. This zone is set to deliver thousands of jobs and attract hundreds of new businesses.

Cllr Andrew Williams, Leader of Dacorum Borough Council, said: "I believe that the Enterprise Zone has the potential to become of international importance, representing a key gateway to London and the UK for global investors wanting advanced manufacturing and distribution space, as well as high tech, potentially exemplar sustainable office provision.  This opportunity also paves the way to supply business start-up/small business incubation space (at the research establishments) and move on space for growing businesses."