Didcot B power station fire: Half of site out of action

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Media captionDave Bray from Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue describes the extent of damage caused by the fire

Half of an Oxfordshire power station that supplies a million homes with electricity will remain "non-operational" indefinitely after a huge fire, its owners said.

At its height, 25 fire engines and about 100 firefighters tackled the blaze at Didcot B power station.

The blaze began in a cooling tower at about 20:00 BST on Sunday and spread to three others because of strong winds.

Owner RWE npower said it did not know how long the closure would be in place.

"It is too early to give any definitive estimate of how long this will be," the company spokesperson said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The full extent of the damage is not yet known

Dan Meredith, from RWE npower, said electricity supplies would not be affected.

"Power stations come on and off the grid quite a lot and we're very sustainable, we can carry on."

The company said it was too early to say how much damage had been caused.

In a statement, National Grid said the blaze had "no operational impact" on the electricity system.

The fire was extinguished at about midnight and no-one was injured.

Simon Furlong, assistant chief fire officer, said three fire engines were still at the gas-fired station on Monday morning and he expected them to be there for at least the next 24 hours.

"This was a serious fire which began in one of Didcot B power station's cooling towers and spread to three other cooling towers," he said.

"I expect that it will take some time to determine the reasons behind what actually happened."

Deputy chief fire officer Nathan Travis said an investigation into the cause of the blaze was taking place and said the area affected by the blaze had been "very badly damaged".

Image caption Energy supplies were not affected by the blaze, the station's owner RWE npower said
Image caption The fire began in a cooling tower and spread to three others because of strong winds
Image caption Three cooling towers were seriously damaged by the blaze
Image caption The major blaze at Didcot B power station has been extinguished, the fire service said on Monday

Dave Bray, the fire service's incident commander, said: "We have extinguished the fire, although there are hot spots that are remaining within the structure.

"It is now the challenge of getting to these and dampening them down."

Mr Bray said firefighters faced "significant challenges" during the blaze because the cooling towers were predominantly made of wood.

An automatic alarm system alerted the fire service, but the first call was actually from a member of the public at Great Western Park in Didcot, he said.

The fire service said the blaze was not being treated as arson or a terrorist incident.

Georgina Miles, who lives near the power station, said: "We saw the flames basically licking the top of the small cooling towers. It was pretty dramatic. There was a lot of damage."

Analysis: John Moylan, Industry Correspondent

Image copyright PA

Didcot B has two "modules" which together provide about 1.3GW of electricity to the grid. The npower website says the plant provides enough power for a million homes.

The company says both modules were generating on Sunday night. The fire was in a cooling tower linked to one of the modules and it was decided to shut down that module. It was considered safe to keep the other running.

So if there is a long-term impact from the fire, it may be that about half the capacity from the plant is hit, but possibly not all of it.

That is to be confirmed, however. The company will know more when it assesses the damage.

National Grid said there was no operational impact from the fire. Demand for electricity is low on a Sunday night.

The power station has been in operation since 1997 and can supply power to up to one million homes, according to operators RWE npower.

Company spokesman Dan Meredith said: "There will be no disruptions to electricity.

"We have a very resilient network in the UK and the way the National Grid can operate, they are able to call upon other power stations across the country to fill the gap that this power station has left as it's come off."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Firefighters are investigating the cause of the blaze, which started on Sunday evening
Image copyright Georgina Miles
Image caption Local people were warned to stay indoors and close doors and windows

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