Luton Airport fire: Cause of car park inferno that damaged 1,500 vehicles revealed

The cause of a huge blaze at London’s Luton Airport that damaged up to 1,500 cars and sparked travel chaos has been revealed.

More than 100 firefighters battled through the night to extinguish the car park inferno, which left tens of thousands of passengers facing cancelled or diverted flights.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service revealed on Wednesday morning the cause of the blaze was a diesel car.

“We don’t believe it was an electric vehicle,” Andrew Hopkinson, chief fire officer for Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said.

“It’s believed to be diesel-powered, at this stage all subject to verification. And then that fire has quickly and rapidly spread.”

Up to 1,500 vehicles may have been damaged by the fire, which broke out on the third floor of the newly-built Terminal 2 car park at around 9pm on Tuesday. The car park partially collapsed as a result of the fire.

Firefighters battled through the night to bring the car park fire under control (PA)
Firefighters battled through the night to bring the car park fire under control (PA)

Speaking to reporters at the scene, Mr Hopkinson said: “On arrival my officers were faced with a severe and rapidly spreading fire involving a large number of vehicles that ultimately spread to multiple floors and involved a partial collapse of the car park.”

The major incident was stood down after the fire was brought under control on Wednesday morning.

Flights resumed on Wednesday afternoon as the delayed 1pm Ryanair flight to Cork finally took off at 3:30pm - 18 hours after the last plane left on Tuesday evening.

AA technical expert Greg Carter said the most common cause of car fires is an electrical fault with the 12-volt battery system.

He added that diesel is “much less flammable” than petrol and in a car it takes “intense pressure or sustained flame” to ignite diesel.

There were no reports of injuries to members of the public, but five people - four firefighters and an airline official - were treated in hospital.

There is no suggestion the blaze happened intentionally.

Aftermath of the blaze which damaged up to 1,500 cars (PA Wire)
Aftermath of the blaze which damaged up to 1,500 cars (PA Wire)

Between 40,000 and 50,000 passengers are thought to have been affected by 273 suspended, cancelled or diverted flights.

A Polish family on holiday in London told how they slept on the floor at Luton Airport as a result of the fire.

Gregorz Szmit, 46, said their flight to Gdansk should have departed at 9.50pm on Tuesday and is now scheduled to leave at 7.30pm on Wednesday.

Mr Szmit, speaking from the terminal building where he is waiting with his wife and their two sons, aged seven and 15, said: “We were on holiday for five days to visit London – British Museum, Trafalgar Square. This is difficult, I must say.

“This is our first journey to England, to London. It’s been an adventure.”

Airport hotels nearby Luton have reportedly all been fully booked, as passengers remain uncertain of their travel plans.

No room at the (Holiday) Inn – or any other hotels in the Luton area (Independent)
No room at the (Holiday) Inn – or any other hotels in the Luton area (Independent)

The fire service posted on Twitter/X on Wednesday morning: “The fire service have now scaled back at Luton Airport and this is no longer a major incident. A number of agencies have been released from the scene and we continue to work with colleagues from the airport and police.”

They added that the fire service would continue to be on the scene for the rest of the day after extinguishing the fire.

Mr Hopskinson also revealed to reporters at the scene that there were no sprinklers in the car park.

He said: “We are already talking to the airport about ensuring that any future, and the existing, car parks have sprinklers fitted because this building is not sprinkler protected.

“Sprinklers may have made a positive impact on this incident.”

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

People with cars affected have been advised to refer to the Luton Airport website for further information.

Mr Hopkinson told reporters that a ramp is being installed “into the unaffected car park because the normal exit route is not safe to take vehicles out”.

He went on: “We’ve currently got four fire appliances and a couple of other specialist crews but we are very much focused on getting a handover and getting this airport open as quickly as we can.

“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.”

A senior fire officer told The Independent that the fire inside the car park was so intense that the whole structure may need to be demolished.

“They’ll probably fly a drone around to assess the damage,” they said.

“But once steel gets above 600 degrees [C] it become brittle. It was a lot more than 600 degrees in there.”

Passengers wait at Luton Airport after flights cancelled until Wednesday afternoon (Simon Calder)
Passengers wait at Luton Airport after flights cancelled until Wednesday afternoon (Simon Calder)

While the airport reopened at 3pm on Wednesday, airlines have issed statements warning their customers of further disruption.

An EasyJet spokesperson said: While the airport has now partially reopened there are restrictions in place which means that like other airlines we are operating a significantly reduced flying programme for the remainder of the day so some flights are unable to operate as planned.”

Meanwhile, Ryanair say that affected passenfers will be advised via email, Push and SMS as soon as possible but “regret to advise passengers of possible delays or cancellations on flights to/from Luton.”

Wizz Air similarly told customers that they would be provided updates on their flight via email and SMS and apologised for the situation that was “beyond our control”.