Thursday, 19 July 2018

Gas fireball caused by lightning strike

A LIGHTNING strike caused a huge fireball after it ignited methane gas at an anaerobic digestion plant, writes David White

A LIGHTNING strike caused a huge fireball after it ignited methane gas at an anaerobic digestion plant, writes David White.

The Agrivert site near Benson was hit at about 5.20pm on Thursday.

No-one was hurt in the incident but the fire burned for around 20 minutes after the strike ignited gas in one of the digesters.

Commercial manager Harry Waters said: “It was obviously quite spectacular when it hit but the site is designed in a way thinking not just about lightning but other ignition sources because we have methane on site.

“All of the electrics and machinery are anti-spark and there are stand off areas. It is built with safety and explosion in mind. It has got lightning protection on the site but lightning will go through anything.” Mr Waters said several properties in Wallingford had been hit in the same storm.

He added: “It was unlucky. Only one digester and not five were impacted. We were back up and running within 90 minutes of the lightning strike.”

Staff were able to keep the plant’s engines running in order to consume the gas and Mr Waters added: “As soon as the gas is exhausted the fire’s out essentially.

“The rooves of these digesters are almost like a tent. The roof had collapsed into the digester and it just looked like a round cylindrical tube without a roof.

“We currently getting a new roof remade in Germany and we’ll be able to pop that on at the end of this week or beginning of next week.” Mr Waters said that the plant was “fully operational” on Friday. He added: “This is an almost unprecedented event and we have been very unlucky.

“We are enormously grateful to the fire services, who were on site in record time, and to the professionalism of our own staff who handled the situation impeccably, bringing the site into safe control quickly.

“We would like to reassure the local community that they are at no risk of any air pollution as a result of the incident.”

Fire crews from Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and RAF Benson were called to the site.

The blaze was out by 5.45pm, with two crews remaining on site until 11pm to help ensure the plants failsafe mechanisms were working correctly.

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