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Explosion at Tilbury docks in July confirmed to be dust explosion

20 August 2020

The Essex fire service has confirmed that a blast at a large grain store in Tilbury docks on July 3 was a dust explosion. The explosion blew the roof off a grain silo and caused flames to rise up to 75m into the sky.

Grain silos at Tilbury - Image:© Copyright Nick Smith /
Grain silos at Tilbury - Image:© Copyright Nick Smith /

Essex Fire and Rescue said the incident was accidental and that there were no injuries. The fire service had stationed crews at the scene for 20 days after the blast as part of its efforts to extinguish reoccurring fires in a number of grain silos at the docks.

During this time, firefighters used specific firefighting techniques including using nitrogen and foam to extinguish the fires while working at height in challenging conditions, the fire service said. Working alongside site staff at the grain terminal, the Environment Agency, scientists and engineers, crews contained the fires and the site will now be managed by the Port of Tilbury staff. Essex County Fire and Rescue Service will input as and when required while the site team safely removes the affected grain silos.

The Port of Tilbury said that it was now commencing a phased start-up of operations at the Tilbury Grain Terminal. The port added that grain handling and storage services are also operating fully through the availability of on-site storage complemented by increased capacity at its offsite storage facility.

The July 3 incident happened at around 08:55 at the docks, around 50 miles (80km) east of London, and caused a fire to break out. The Essex Fire Service attended the scene and found that the roofs of several grain silos were blown off and grain had caught fire.

Fire crews were able to bring the fire under control but allowed grain to smoulder. Firefighters worked with the site managers to remove unaffected grain so that the fire did not spread. 

Firefighters were called back to the scene just two days later when further fires erupted. In total, 15 fire crews attended Tilbury docks in the days after the initial explosion to extinguish fires. The incident came a few weeks after three workers were injured after an explosion at an oilseed processing factory in Erith, southeast London.

Tilbury docks is the UK’s largest grain terminal and has an annual capacity of around two million tonnes. The terminal has 200 separate silos capable of holding between 60 and 300 tonnes of grain.

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