All major oil depot fires extinguished

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The Independent Online

The Buncefield oil depot fire - thought to be the largest peacetime blaze seen in Europe - was tonight defeated after burning for nearly 60 hours, the fire chief said.

All 20 oil tanks which caught fire at the depot in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, following a series of explosions at 6am on Sunday have been extinguished, said Hertfordshire's chief fire officer Roy Wilsher.

Mr Wilsher said only a small number of minor fires remained and they were being doused by firefighters.

More than 600 firefighters have been involved in fighting the blaze - described by Mr Wilsher as "apocalyptic" - over the past three days.

Mr Wilsher said their efforts in extreme conditions had been "magnificent".

But he said firefighters would remain at the scene for several days cooling the area ensuring the fires did not break out again.

Mr Wilsher admitted Hertfordshire fire and rescue service had not been trained to tackle such a large blaze.

He said: "We had not trained to fight a fire this large. All previous experience had been on one tank."

Firefighters had based their training on the possibility of one fuel tank at the depot - the fifth largest in Britain - catching light.

But following a series of explosions early on Sunday senior officers were faced with an "apocalyptic" blaze in which 20 tanks were burning.

Mr Wilsher said firefighters had been in "uncharted territory" and any lessons that could be learned would be.

He continued: "Firefighters all train to fight oil fires. But we had not trained to fight an oil fire this size.

"Any lessons that can be learned will be learned. I have no particular concerns at the moment.

"I think with any incident of this kind there will undoubtedly be some lessons to be learned."

But he stressed that the plan drawn up to tackle the blaze had been successful and no emergency service workers had been hurt.

"The firefighters involved have done a magnificent job," he added.

"We consulted experts from other fire services and the oil industry before working out a tactical plan and that plan has worked. And I am confident that the plan will succeed in the end."

Firefighter Doug Robinson, area commander for Watford, said: "The pre-plan was for an emergency involving one tank. I have been a fireman for 28 years and I have never seen anything like it in my life."

Firefighters who tackled the blaze today described their experiences to journalists.

"It was a complete fireball. It does not compare to anything I have ever seen," said Jon Smith, station commander at Hemel Hempstead.

"The experiences we have had in this fire are far in excess of what we have experienced before.

"In the early stages we did not actually know what was involved."

Health officials said most schools in and around Hemel Hempstead should re-open tomorrow.

Police said some businesses near the site should also re-open tomorrow and local residents were being allowed to return to inspect their damaged homes.