Port of London Tilbury
On the 5th July 2020, a chain of events was started (likely by a spark) that resulted in a massive dust explosion and subsequent fire at the Grain Store Terminal at Port of Tilbury in London. This was a major event that required attention from multiple emergency service teams in order to bring it under control and prevent any further explosions. Remarkably, no one was seriously injured – nothing short of a miracle given the number of staff on site and the amount of reinforced concrete and debris that was blown high into the sky only to shower down on top of the surrounding buildings.
Conventional fire management strategies and techniques are not appropriate with grain store fires. Using water to douse the blaze is not an effective firefighting tactic with grain and dust fires, plus the additional weight could have caused a total structural collapse which would have compounded an already difficult situation. Therefore, London fire service crews were in attendance for days whilst an appropriate strategy was created and deployed, with personnel remaining on site at all times to monitor the situation over the following weeks. Throughout this initial period, there was always the risk of further explosions and the fire spreading as the grain that was stored in the attached silos creates dust that could further ignite if the temperature is high enough.
Drone Media Imaging were hired to fly thermal imaging missions to collect temperature data to determine the fire spread as well as to monitor fire management progress over time. In particular, where the temperatures increasing, decreasing or staying the same?
We were deployed on the 7th July 2020, initially flying three times a day, seven days a week throughout July, to compare temperatures and reporting back to the disaster management teams and emergency service gold commanders. While not all the silos were filled with grain material, many were, and some were burning at temperatures more than 800°c. We finally finished our mission in late August 2021 1 year and a month after the initial Grain Store explosion! The structure needed to be demolished before the fire was finally irradicated. We were still recording temperatures in excess of 80°C in the grain that was present on the ground following demolition.
Gaining safe access to fly was not without its challenges as emergency services had put a 50m exclusion zone in place around the terminal due to the further explosion risk. Therefore, our risk assessments and method statements had to be created uniquely for this situation and carefully evaluated to ensure both safe drone flights and the most accurate thermal data collection at this critical point.