Jersey gas facility fire leaves hundreds stranded overnight

Hundreds of people will not be able to return to their homes overnight after a fire broke out at a gas facility in St Helier.

Homes, schools and businesses were evacuated and roads sealed off after a back-up gas holder caught fire.

Firefighters are tackling the blaze at Gas Place and Jersey Fire Service has urged people to stay out of the area.

A Jersey Police spokeswoman said they were dealing with a fire and a gas leak and there was a risk of explosion.

Flames and smoke could be seen from across the town.

Jersey Fire service said people living within the roads immediately surrounding the fire had been evacuated and would not be able to return on Wednesday night.

The only houses that need to be evacuated are Tunnel Street (immediately adjacent to the site) St Saviour's Road from Tunnel Street to Simon Place and Simon Place to Ann Street (bar the last few houses).

People living within the wider 400m exclusion zone have been told to remain in their homes with windows and doors closed.

'Very traumatic'

Chief of Police Mike Bowron said it would be "grossly inconvenient night for many people".

People displaced are being told to visit the Town Hall in St Helier or call the support line on 01534 612000.

Some people are being put up at Fort Regent and others in churches but police are urging people to try to stay with family or friends.

He said: "Subject to technical advice and fire advice, our best guess is to get people back by rush hour tomorrow.

"We are relying on assistance from friends, relatives, who can take the pressure of States services tonight."

A Beaulieu school student said: "We have come from Beaulieu and were dismissed early today.

"Lots of the students were crying and it was a very traumatic experience."

A spokesman for Jersey Gas said one employee, a plant fitter, had minor burns to the face and another was treated for shock.

Three options

He said the gas holder provided back-up gas and there was currently no risk of islanders' supplies being affected.

The top of the tank has buckled. The spokesman said this did not increase the risk of the incident escalating.

Jersey Fire Service said there were three options they were considering.

A spokesman said: "Option A is to allow it to continue to burn and control that burn down until there is none left.

"Option B is to try and extinguish the flame, which is a much smaller flame now, and then try and contain the vapour release.

"Option C is to pump gas back into the gas holder, that sounds like an odd thing to do, but it maintains the strength and structure of the holder.

"With the burn-down strategy the potential is the structure could collapse and exacerbate the problems."

Steve Coleman from the Jersey animal shelter said the 265 animals in their care would not be moved this evening, despite the shelter being within the exclusion zone.

He said he had spoken to the police and the animals had been bedded down because there was nowhere for them to go.

Mr Coleman said he would check on the animals this evening and staff hoped to return to the shelter at 08:00 BST.

Code red status

The police spokeswoman said the fire had been declared a major incident.

"We are asking people to avoid the area and if they are residents who have not been evacuated to stay indoors with their windows closed," she said.

The code red status of the blaze has meant all off-duty fire crews have been called into work.

Image caption Homes, schools and businesses have been evacuated

Parents were asked to pick up their children from the seven schools that were evacuated.

Seven schools have been closed due to a possible change in wind direction.

They are Springfield, Beaulieu, De La Salle, Victoria College, Victoria College Prep, JCG and JCG Prep.

As well as the schools La Petite Ecole, St Mark's Road, Charlie Farleys Too, Leeward and Little Oaks are also closed.

Customers and staff at the Co-op Grand Marche were told to leave the store and staff from the Royal Bank of Scotland in Bath Street were sent home.

Connex said some bus services had been cancelled.

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