Buncefield: 10 years on

Buncefield fire. Picture supplied by Herts Fire and rescue Service.
Buncefield fire. Picture supplied by Herts Fire and rescue Service.

One decade ago the people of Dacorum were woken from their beds on a Sunday morning by the biggest explosion of its kind in peacetime Europe.

Until that moment, many were not even aware of Buncefield - an oil depot on the edge of Hemel Hempstead.

But the fuel base, the fifth largest of its kind in the UK, became famous across the country and world on December 11, 2005, when a vapour cloud caused by an overflowing petrol tank ignited creating a massive explosion and an inferno that raged for five days.

When the first explosion occurred at 6.01am more than 250,000 litres of petrol had escaped from the overflowing tank.

Thankfully, no-one lost their lives but more than 40 people were hurt and many had to be evacuated from their damaged homes. If the disaster had struck on a weekday the death toll would have been devastating.

The long-term cost was economic. At the time of the explosion there were 620 businesses with 16,500 employees - the equivalent to one in three of Dacorum’s workforce - based at the Maylands Industrial Estate, which generated around £59billion each year.

A total of 92 businesses, employing 9,500 staff were directly or severely affected at the time. 923 temporary and casual jobs were lost and there were 410 redundancies.

17 businesses permanently moved out of the town costing the area 513 jobs.

Many who kept their jobs had their hours cut, while small businesses including taxi drivers, catering companies, cleaners and couriers, suffered as their services were less in demand.

Since the disaster several initiatives have promoted the town as a good place to do business including, the Hemel 2020 vision, the Maylands Masterplan and the Dacorum Look No Further project.

In 2008, the Phoenix sculpture on the Breakspear roundabout, which symbolises the town’s regeneration, was completed.

Today (Friday), to mark the anniversary of the disaster, business leaders will come together to launch Hemel Hempstead Business Ambassadors. The group will see company bosses promote the town to help entice other companies to settle here.