Buncefield explosion: flashback to Herts Advertiser coverage of inferno

The Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel H

The Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel Hempstead - Credit: Archant

As the dramatic - and explosive - events at the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal unfolded a decade ago, pupils across the St Albans district faced an extended Christmas holiday when schools were forced to close.

The Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel H

The Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel Hempstead - Credit: Archant

The blast wave on December 11, 2005, shook buildings 25 miles away, while smoke produced by the fire spread out over London, the south east, and even across France.

Reporting on the largest fire in peacetime Europe, the Herts Advertiser said that Townsend School in High Oaks, then attended by 850 pupils, closed after suffering serious blast damage.

It had 67 separate areas of damage, the most serious of which was the collapse of its dining room ceiling.

With the school looking across fields directly to the Buncefield depot, it took the full force of the blast – the explosion registered as 2.4 on the Richter scale.

The Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel H

The Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel Hempstead - Credit: Archant


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Two special schools, Heathlands in St Albans and St Luke’s in Redbourn, were also closed because of damage.

As firefighters tackled the blaze, which burned for several days, Herts county council closed all schools in the district on the advice of health experts and to help alleviate traffic congestion.

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Unfortunately for Nicholas Breakspear School in St Albans, vandals took advantage of the situation, damaging 15 classrooms in an attack.

Residents, too, reported damage with Ford Shackcloth telling this paper’s reporters that the ceiling and contents of his loft crashed down on him and his family at his home on the outskirts of Redbourn.

He said: “We were just covered in plaster. Because we were so close to the depot we didn’t hear the sound of the blast straight away – it was the ceiling caving in that woke us.”

Hours after being evacuated, Ford returned to his home to rescue his family’s three cats which, luckily, had escaped harm.

A 10-foot-high window in St Albans’ famous landmark, the Abbey, had some of its leading sucked out.

Businesses were also left counting the cost of the disaster, as dozens were forced to close following the explosion.

At the time, 370 businesses and 3,500 jobs were affected.

Even small businesses miles from the depot were affected. At Chiswell Green, turkeys destined for the Christmas table were crushed to death after the terrified birds stampeded following the immense blast.

Graham Hall, owner of a free-range turkey farm, told the Herts Advertiser: “The house shook and the dog was barking.

“I went outside and the horses were really restless.”

Upon checking a shed, he saw the bodies of 38 of his 200 free-range turkeys.

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