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2005: Massive fire at Buncefield oil depot

VIDEO : Watch CCTV footage of the blast

A series of massive explosions early this morning has led to an enormous fire at one of Britain's largest oil depots sending thick black smoke drifting up to 40 miles away.

Police say 43 people were injured, two of them seriously, after flames shot hundreds of feet into the sky at the Buncefield oil depot near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.

The fire, which police believe was the result of an accident rather than a terrorist attack, is being described as the largest of its kind in peacetime Europe.

The noise of the explosions, which occured just after 0600GMT, is being reported to have been heard as far away as the Netherlands.

About 2,000 people living nearby have been evacuated, while police have advised others to keep their windows and doors closed because of the fumes.

The depot, situated near to Junction 8 of the M1 is one of the largest fuel supplying facilities in the country and maintains fuel deliveries to Luton, Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

In total there were 20 petrol tanks involved in the fire, each said to hold three million gallons of fuel.

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In Context
The blasts injured 43 people. No-one was killed.

The tank fires were finally extinguished by the afternoon of 13 December but one storage tank re-ignited in the evening. It was left to burn by the firefighters.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency, charged with finding out the causes and the environmental impact of the explosions, revealed a storage tank had been overflowing for more than 40 minutes before the explosion causing a huge vapour cloud to build up, which was then ignited by a spark.

It is still uncertain what ignited this vapour.

The HSE concluded mechanical failures and human error were partly to blame.

But the investigation board said it did not seek to address any shortcomings in the plant's design and operation "in order to avoid prejudicing future legal considerations".


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