December 13, 2005

UK fire crews make more progress with fuel blaze

LONDON (Reuters) - Fire crews made further progress
overnight in extinguishing a massive blaze at a fuel depot
north of London, a fire service spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

More than 100 firefighters have been tackling the blaze,
which officials have described as the largest of its type in
peacetime Europe. It broke out on Sunday morning at the
Buncefield depot near the town of Hemel Hempstead.

After spraying tens of thousands of litres of foam and
water per minute onto the blaze, they have now extinguished
flames in 17 of 20 storage tanks which were on fire, the
spokeswoman for the Hertfordshire fire service said.

"Crews have been cooling and protecting the fuel tanks
overnight and there are now only three tanks remaining alight,"
she said.

"Once these have been extinguished, crews will foam the
remainder of the site."

Police say they believe the fire, accompanied by a series
of big explosions which rocked the surrounding area, was caused
by an accident but a full investigation will be carried out.

The fire sent a huge plume of black smoke into the sky,
burned out cars, shattered trees, scorched grass and badly
damaged offices and warehouses nearby.

Britain's biggest brewer, Scottish & Newcastle, said the
fire caused "significant" damage to its main distribution
center for its subsidiary Waverly TBS (WTBS), a wines and
spirits wholesaler.

The head office of software and outsourcing firm Northgate
Information Solutions, one of the UK's leading suppliers of
specialist software for human resources, was seriously damaged.

Shares in online fashion retailer ASOS were suspended after
the explosion damaged its warehouse.

The depot, the fifth largest in Britain, is jointly owned
by oil companies Total and Texaco.