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15 YEARS ON: Hemel residents share Buncefield explosion memories

 Published on: 14th December 2020   |   By: Amneet Kaur   |   Category: Uncategorized

This year we mark 15 years since the Buncefield explosion, one of the biggest explosions in the UK since the Second World War.

The explosion occurred on Sunday, December 11, 2005 and the huge blast at Buncefield Oil Depot, in Hemel Hempstead,  was heard as far as the Netherlands.

Large quantities of petrol overflowed from the top of the tank. This caused a vapour cloud to form, which ignited causing a huge explosion and a fire which lasted for days.

We spoke to local residents who have that day still vivid in their memories.

Patrick Doherty said: “I was living in Leverstock Green at the time, I remember hearing the first explosion waking up and thinking someone had fallen out of bed then another explosion happened not long after. 

“The morning after on my way to school I saw news reporters and cameramans everywhere and the whole town was talking about it, it was pretty crazy we moved to Welwyn Garden City for a while because everyone in Leverstock was getting evacuated, people were staying at Jarmans Park and all sorts.”

Sarah Louise Porter,who used to be a former resident, instead mentioned: “Watching local New York station NY1 at home on West 29th Street. I was flabbergasted because they usually only reported on cats up trees in the Bronx etc and yet, there was Buncefield as breaking major news. Surreal to watch your hometown from so far away.”

Darren Greenidge added: “Unbelievable it’s fifteen years ago today. I’ll not forget it. I was staying at my bosses, and dear friend’s house, that night, over in St Albans, after doing a 15 hours shift on the bar, and putting up bloody Christmas decorations.

“Anyway, we took a bottle of Jameson home, drank the bottle dry, after putting the world to rights, and went off to bed.

“A couple of hours later, and my bed lifted off the floor, followed by a loud BOOM! that went straight to the chest! My friend and I rushed into the hallway to see if we were both alright, and switched on our phones and TV/radio’s, to find out what had happened?

“I had quite a few missed calls from my aunt in Ireland, as well as other people. I too made calls, and thankfully, everyone was safe.

“Later that day at work, I could see the smoke rising from the roof of the pub in St Albans, from the explosion point in nearby Hemel. It was like something out of a disaster film, billowing black fumes into the sky, turning day into darkness.”

Susan Gill commented on the incident saying: “5.50am and the wardrobe back became a wobble board. I was breastfeeding, it was a massive pressure wave. Hubby went to investigate, nothing seen outside (we are down by the canal behind the ski slope) nothing on the news so came back to bed. 

“The phone started at 7am – family and friends asking if we were ok. By 8am the smell of the oil was getting into the house making me cough and smoke was drifting across the garden. 

“We had a quick scoot round, grabbed the washing basket of clean dry nappies straight out of the tumble dryer, the day before’s load of clean clothes, the tub of toys, dog bed, food, dog, child, Hubbies lap top and our washbags . 

“A flask of coffee and drove out of Hemel at 9am for Somerset. We drove out from under the pall of smoke at Reading. We stayed for a week. Our part of Hemel was still covered in foam blown down from the fire fighting when we returned.”

Matthew Hannagan said: “I remember someone running up my street in their dressing gown with a tiny fire extinguisher (thinking it was a local gas explosion).

“I also remember feeling as if my bed got kicked, and the house creaked as if a giant was trying to lift the roof off. Many years later we discovered a ceiling joist that had shattered by compression – the builder said he had never seen wood behave that way!”

Claire Turner mentioned: “We were living in a top floor flat in Grovehill and had the perfect view of it actually blowing up. A strange sucking sound drew us to the window, in time to the flame covering a large area, suck into the centre and develop into a mushroom cloud and a very loud bang. It was like watching a scene from Thunderbirds.”

Picture credit: Clive Isitt

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