Worker dies in town centre explosion

A MAN died and thousands of students were evacuated from a university after an explosion in an electricity sub station started a major fire.

A MAN died and thousands of students were evacuated from a university after an explosion in an electricity sub station started a major fire.

At the height of the blaze firefighters from across Essex were battling the blaze in Chelmsford which disrupted power supplies and meant Broomfield Hospital had to switch to emergency generators.

Traffic lights in the town went out and a 200 metre exclusion zone was set up around the fire which at its worst could be seen from miles around.

Residents were warned to stay inside and keep their windows closed as thick smoke covered the area on one of the hottest days of the year so far.

Emergency services were called at around noon yesterday to a sub station off Bishop Hall Lane and next to the Anglia Ruskin University campus.

Assistant Divisional Officer for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service Neil Fenwick said the fire spread rapidly because crews could not begin extinguishing it until the electricity supply had been stopped.

Most Read

The blaze started in a room in the sub station containing electrical switching equipment and a transformer.

Once the electricity supply had been isolated firefighters worked to put the blaze out using foam for several hours with relief crews being bought in from across the county to take over the operation.

Police officers from across Essex were also drafted in after the county's force declared the fire a major incident and its helicopter hovered over the scene for most of the afternoon.

Speaking at the scene, Inspector Chris Tyler said: “There has been one fatality in this incident and we believe it is only one but we have no further details on that at present.

“The Health and Safety Executive and the fire brigade are investigating the events of today.”

He said it had not been a police decision to evacuate the university and no other homes or buildings had been cleared but Chelmer Valley Road, Rectory Lane and Valley Bridge Road were all closed.

After more than four hours the fire was under control and police moved the exclusion zone to around the immediate area of the blaze.

This meant hundreds of students who had used the university's car parks were able to collect their vehicles while the 600 who live in accommodation on the site were allowed back into their homes although they remained without power.

Steve Bennett, secretary of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “With the co-operation of the fire brigade and police we evacuated the campus, moving 8,000 students most of whom have gone home.

“Overnight we will decided whether we reopen for lessons tomorrow.

“We have a well rehearsed arrangement for evacuation which we practice with the police and fire brigade but unfortunately today it was happening for real.”

Meanwhile some pupils at the nearby Chelmsford County High School for Girls were told to stay inside the gym for their own safety.

Parent Heather Toner said her 15-year-old daughter Madeline had called her at about 2pm from the gym to tell her she was alright.

Mrs Toner said: “I was out shopping and the phone rang. They were kept in and told to stay in the school and not leave the buildings where they were.

“I don't know how many of them there were inside, but they were not having normal lessons.

“They seemed very calm, but they didn't know someone had died.”

All the pupils are thought to have left the site as normal at the end of the school day.

A spokesman for power company EDF Energy said last night: “We are currently working with the emergency services after a fire at one of our main substation sites in Chelmsford.

“Unfortunately, power to several thousand customers was interrupted at 1.20pm while the blaze is brought under control.

“We are working to safely restore power via alternative circuits as soon as possible.”