People across Herts, Beds and Bucks were awoken early on Sunday morning by an explosion, later described by Hertfordshire's Chief Fire Officer Roy Wilsher as "the largest incident of its kind in peace time Europe".
The Fire Brigade and other emergency services were called to attend Buncefield Oil Depot in Hemel Hempstead following reports of a huge explosion just after 6.00am.
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.
|The skies dark with thick smoke.|
The noise of the explosion is being reported to have been heard as far away as the Netherlands.
Eyewitnesses have been recounting their experiences. Nick from Hemel Hempstead described how his father was injured:
"He has glass all over his face, he was sleeping and the window shattered on top of him and he has cuts all over his face and glass in his eyes" he said.
"Cars have been blown in and windows have been smashed, our front door has been knocked completely over and all the back windows have shattered, there is glass everywhere."
Carol from Flamstead was woken by the first explosion:
"I woke up to an enormous bang, the whole house shook. We live in Flamstead which is a few miles away from Hemel but looking out from my bedroom window it looks straight across the hill to Hemel" she recalled.
"I immediately got up when I felt the house shake because I didn't know what it was, I looked out of the window and I saw a huge fireball coming up in to the sky in the direction of Hemel."
"Then the whole sky was orange and lit up and then you could see the flames rising from that direction. This was around 6.00am and then there were a couple of smaller explosions."
Kathryn from St Albans was also disturbed:
"There was a massive bang and we looked out the window and we could just see cars with their alarms going off but in the distance there was a massive plume of smoke reaching up about 40 or 50 feet billowing and lots of red and orange sparks, it was really, really frightening" she said.
Kelly Roberts, from Hemel Hempsted lives near to the Buncefield site:
"We're in a third floor flat and the flames are twice as big and the sky was absolutely illuminated orange" she said.
|"It took me off my feet. I'm not quite sure if my knees buckled or whether the blast took me off my feet, I was just in shock at that point."|
|Tanker driver, Paul Turner, who had just arrived at the depot.|
"Then we got a phone call to say that my sister-in-law's roof had caved in, I've come round there and out of the window is just a scene you could never imagine.
"It's like watching a volcano, there are fireballs, smoke and it is just unbelievable."
Claire Lay, lives on a farm next to the oil depot, she woke up to the blast:
"There was one bang which woke me up and by the time the second bang went off which was almost immediately after, we were at our window" she explained.
"It was just huge - within seconds there were hundreds of feet of blazing fire and the flats next door to us have been structurally damaged, the whole sides of them have been taken off."
BBC Journalist, Nick Holland, said that he spoke to two oil tanker drivers who had been inside the Buncefield Fuel depot:
"They said to me that when you're an oil tanker driver your keys and your mobile phone are taken off you when you enter the refinery, as they're filling your tank up with delivery to the petrol stations" he revealed.
"They said that when the explosion went off there was no way of driving out of the refinery itself, they ran for their lives and they basically ran as far as they could and they were eventually given a lift and driven away from the burning refinery itself."
James Matthews was staying with his girlfriend in Hemel Hempstead when the explosions took place:
"Initially I thought that someone was trying to break in to my house, my girlfriend thought we'd had an earthquake" he said.
|People look on as the smoke billows.|
"We went to the front room and looked out the window and the sky was flashing orange and yellow and there was literally a mushroom of smoke that just suddenly shot up in to the air.
"What we then did was continue to look at the actual mushroom and saw the flames that actually came up. Both of us were quite shocked, we thought it was a house that had blown up in the next street."
Mike Penning, Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead and former fire officer, was at the forward fire control in Hemel. At 10.00 am he said the fire services were struggling to contain the blaze:
"They're now in the situation where they physically at the moment can't fight it - they've got over 100 fireman up there, they've got crews available from all over the south east" he revealed.
"They've asked for special high velocity pumps which I understand the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are sending in to them.
"There's no immediate danger they feel to the local residents - even though we will continue to address that and we may have to keep pulling people out of their homes as the day goes on just for their own safety."
Tanker driver, Paul Turner, says he'd just arrived for work at the depot when the explosion happened:
"I just saw this great big ball of fire come up behind the building - I still didn't know what it was at that point. It was about 50 metres wide and then the loudest explosion, the loudest bang I've ever heard in my life" he said.
"It took me off my feet. I'm not quite sure if my knees buckled or whether the blast took me off my feet, I was just in shock at that point, got up turned around and just ran as fast as I could straight back to my car and sped out of the building as fast as I could."
Liz Cousins and Maureen King were evacuated from the Holiday Inn hotel, which is close to the fuel depot.
"It was absolutely horrendous, the bang" said Liz. "And then there was a second one. At first we didn't know what was happening. Luckily we were on the ground floor, I just grabbed a coat, ran to reception to see what was happening, and they told us.
"There's actually people still on the coach that have just got pyjamas on. We've just been told that the hotel is sealed and they won't be able to get their things until tomorrow."
At at news conference just after 10 am, the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire, Frank Whitely, said he was surprised more people weren't hurt:
"We're not in a position to totally conform the casualties but at the moment it looks as if we've got off a lot more lightly that you might expect in an explosion of this size. The fact that it occurred at the time it did is probably the saving grace there."
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