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Luton Airport shut by massive car park fire

Multi-storey partially collapses, hundreds of cars destroyed and thousands of journeys disrupted

Mark Moran
11 October 2023
The car park blaze (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service)
After the fire (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service)
After the fire (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service)
Aerial view of fire (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service)
Aerial view of fire (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service)

 

A major fire in a car park caused flights to be suspended at London Luton Airport and had led to the destruction of dozens of vehicles. The blaze was so intense that the multi-storey structure has partially collapsed.

The Terminal 2 car park has a capacity for 1,900 vehicles. It is believed about 1,500 vehicles were in the car park at the time of the fire on Tuesday night. It is anticipated that hundreds of cars may have been damaged.

The extent of the structural damage and the number of vehicles involved makes this the largest and most destructive car park fire in the UK since the blaze at King’s Dock in Liverpool on 31 December 2017.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service received calls to a fire involving a car on level three of the multi-storey car park at London Luton Airport at 8.47pm.

Fire crews were faced with a rapidly escalating fire and declared a major incident at 9.38pm.

A severe fire rapidly spread through the structure and the severity of the fire has caused significant structural collapse. It is believed that up to 1,200 vehicles may have been in the car park at the time of the fire and subsequently damaged.

Firefighting operations were undertaken to control the blaze and protect nearby buildings, vehicles, aircraft and the Luton DART, a driverless train linking the terminals to Luton Parkway station.

At its peak there were 15 rescue pumps, three aerial appliances and over 100 firefighters on scene at this incident. Fire crews from Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and the London Fire Brigade helped tackle the blaze. Bedfordshire Police and East of England Ambulance also attended the incident.

No serious injuries have been reported. However, a total of five casualties were treated for smoke inhalation and have been discharged. They included one member of airport staff and four firefighters.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service believes the blaze was accidental and started in a vehicle. The fire service confirmed the initial vehicle involved in the fire was a diesel car.

An investigation to determine the cause of the fire is underway.

Andy Hopkinson, Bedfordshire's chief fire officer, said the service had no intelligence than to suggest it was anything other than an accidental fire. He said it was thought the fire started in “diesel-powered” car and then spread through the building.

Hopkinson said  that the car park's open sides would have allowed the fire to spread “horizontally” before it went up through the building.

The car park did not appear to have sprinklers, according to Hopkinson, who said a recommendation for sprinklers in any redevelopment would be made to the airport.

As of Wednesday afternoon, two fire engines, an aerial platform and the incident command unit remain at the scene of the fire currently.  Their crews will work with airport fire service to monitor hot spots.

A temporary ramp would be installed on the unaffected part of the car park to help remove unaffected vehicles. Hopkinson said: “There is a substantial number that are not damaged and our focus as well is can we remove those vehicles safely without causing any danger to the responders.”

At the height of the blaze, Bedfordshire Police asked people not to travel to the area. Police officers directed people already at the airport away from the scene.

Public transport running to the airport was cancelled and some roads in the immediate vicinity were closed. As of 3.30pm on Wednesday main roads around the area are all open.

London Luton is the UK's fifth largest airport after Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted, carrying more than 13 million passengers in 2022.

The airport said in a statement on Tuesday night: “All flights are currently suspended as emergency services respond to a car fire that has spread in Terminal Car Park 2. Access to the airport is currently restricted and we ask that people do not travel to the airport at this time.”

The airport said additional staff were on hand to provide assistance to passengers and said they should contact their airline for flight information.

Analysis by the Press Association indicates that around 25,000 airline passengers were impacted by cancellations and delays.

At 1.15pm on Wednesday a spokesperson from London Luton Airport said: “Following last night’s car fire in Terminal Car Park 2, Emergency services have now down-grounded the incident but remain on the scene as a precaution. The teams have worked hard to get the airport operational, with the first passengers now re-entering the terminal and the first flights expected to depart from 3pm.

“For those arriving by car, the Long and Mid-stay car parks are fully operational, and a temporary drop-off area has been established in the Mid-stay car park. For those travelling to the airport by rail, the DART shuttle remains out of service with replacement buses in operation.

“Additional staff remain on hand to assist passengers across the site. Those with queries relating to a parked vehicle or future booking, in Terminal Car Park 2 and Terminal Car Park 1, should contact luton.customerservices@apcoa.com for support.”

Airline provider EasyJet, which is based at Luton, issued a statement apologising for the inconvenience. It added that it would be providing hotel accommodation and meals for passengers where required.

Hungarian airline Wizz Air, which has its UK base at Luton, warned passengers to expect cancellations and disruptions.

In light of the major incident at Luton Airport the trade union Unite has suspended a planned industrial action at the APCOA-run car parks which was due to commence on Friday 13 October. APCOA said:“We appreciate Unite and its members acting so quickly in suspending their industrial action, so all our colleagues can support Luton Airport and its customers through this challenging period.”

Transport secretary Mark Harper tweeted: “I’m thankful for the hard work of emergency services tackling the fire at Luton Airport last night and into the early hours of this morning.”

His colleague Charlotte Vere, minister for aviation, maritime and security, said: “I’m very grateful to emergency service staff who worked hard to put out the fire at Luton Airport last night and this morning.”

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