Rioting erupted at the Yarl's Wood detention centre after Group 4 security officers detained a hysterical female asylum seeker.
Flames tore through most of the £80m complex
It was dawn the next day, and tens of millions of pounds of damage later, before the centre was declared fully under control.
Women and children cowered in fear during the disturbances. One teacher and two of his pupils jumped 20 feet from a classroom window to escape the baying mob.
Two nurses feared they were going to be burned to death as they were besieged in a room and there was an alleged attempted rape of a woman detainee.
Within minutes the rioters had gained control" through sheer force of numbers" and there was a "terrifying explosion" of violence, Harrow Crown Court Court was told.
One officer, who was trapped in a room by a screaming mob, was doused in a liquid he thought was petrol.
A cigarette lighter was shoved under the door by rioters who had reached him after smashing a window.
Damage valued at £38m was caused at the site
Three months earlier, in November 2000, the centre had been opened as a flagship for the government's tougher asylum policies.
The resulting police investigation and four-month court case landed Bedfordshire police with a bill of up to £5m.
They said there was confusion about who was detained because records were destroyed in the fire and the Home Office Immigration Service had no back-up files.
CCTV footage was also lost in the fire and the defence claimed alleged witnesses were removed from the country.
Rioters smashed lights, CCTV cameras, stormed a high-technology control room to destroy equipment and records, set fires and seized keys from terrified Group 4 staff.
Twelve still on the run
With no fire sprinkler systems, the flames spread through the Charlie and Delta wings of the Home Office detention centre.
Group 4 management ordered that detainees be locked in the building, the court was told.
Police and fire officers spent more than five hours waiting outside because Group 4 said it wanted to bring the situation under control.
They were finally allowed in after the Prison Service sent in specialist Typhoon riot control units to secure the place.
Group 4's insurers, DJ Pye 962, a Lloyd's syndicate, has issued a £97m claim for the damage against Bedfordshire Police's chief constable.
The matter is still under negotiation.
Of the 33 detainees who escaped, 12 are still on the run.