Luton Airport’s £20 million multi-storey car park engulfed in a massive fire did not have any sprinklers despite only opening in 2019 – and now ‘will probably have to be demolished’
- More than 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines battled the blaze for 12 hours
A multi-storey car park at Luton Airport which partially collapsed after being engulfed by fire did not have any sprinklers to help dampen the flames, it has emerged.
More than 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines worked for 12 hours battling the blaze, which began just before 9pm yesterday on the third floor of Terminal Car Park 2.
Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue service declared a major incident – with four firefighters and an airport worker taken to hospital with smoke inhalation and another firefighter treated at the scene – before the flames were extinguished just before 9am today.
The 600C blaze is thought to have been sparked by a diesel car, understood to be a Range Rover, which investigators believe could have suffered an electrical fault or a leaking fuel line.
The £20million car park, which opened just four years ago, did not appear to have sprinklers, according to Andrew Hopkinson, chief fire officer.
He told reporters that they ‘could have made a positive impact on this incident’ as he urged the airport to install them in existing and future car parks.
He said the car park’s open sides meant the fire is likely to have spread ‘horizontally’ before it tore upwards through the building, adding that there was ‘no intelligence to suggest it was anything other than an accidental fire’.
He said up to 1,500 vehicles were inside at the time of the fire.
The intense heat of the blaze gutted the car park, meaning it will probably have to be demolished, sources said.
Luton Airport did not respond to requests for comment as to why fire sprinklers had not been installed in the car park and whether it would rectify this in its current and future car parks.
AA technical expert Greg Carter said car fires are most commonly caused by an electrical fault with the 12-volt battery system.
He said diesel is ‘much less flammable’ than petrol and that in a car it takes ‘intense pressure or sustained flame’ to ignite the fuel.
The inferno led to travel chaos for tens of thousands of families as the airport remained shut to passengers until 3pm today with at least 150 flights due to take off or land cancelled since the fire started.
Almost 30 flights were diverted to airports as far away as Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester, while many other flights were delayed.
The Dart light rail transit system connecting the airport with mainline railway station Luton Airport Parkway remained closed.
Nearby residents were advised to close their windows to avoid the smoke.
Dramatic CCTV footage posted online shows the moment the car park’s third floor caved in as an explosion erupted, sending a fireball tearing through the complex.
The flames then spread rapidly to the lower floors as a string of electric cars caught fire in a domino-like effect, one firefighter suggested.
A spokesman for Association of British Insurers said that it was too early to estimate the total cost of claims likely to be made by customers – many of whom returned from holidays horrified to find their cars torched or trapped in the car park.
A temporary ramp was being built at the airport car park to allow unscathed vehicles to leave.
James Davison, 37, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, was travelling back from Portugal with his partner, Sarah, 32, when they were diverted to Gatwick.
They had parked their £32,000 VW Tiguan in Luton Airport’s Carpark 2 which they fear has been destroyed in the blaze.
Mr Davison, an accountant, said: ‘We haven’t been told for sure but we fear the car has gone. It’s devastating, what with the cost of the holiday it’ll cost a fortune.
‘We were due to land last night and the pilot just said that we had to divert.
‘It cost us money just coming back here from Gatwick.’
At 16.30 this afternoon, a Luton airport spokesman said the runway was ‘now open, and flights are beginning to arrive and depart’.
They added: ‘Main roads around the area have also re-opened, but delays are expected on the airport approach.
‘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 airport.
‘Those with queries relating to a parked vehicle or future booking, in Terminal Car Park 2 and Terminal Car Park 1, should contact email@example.com for support.’