Luton airport fire
The vehicle fire ignited shortly before 9 p.m. on Tuesday, and the subsequent collapse of the car park structure has caused substantial chaos. HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP

London Luton Airport, one of the busiest transportation hubs in the United Kingdom, has plunged into chaos as around 25,000 airline passengers suffer major disruptions.

The airport remains closed following a vehicle fire that resulted in a car park collapse. The incident has left a significant number of passengers stranded, with at least 140 flights cancelled and further flights suspended until at least 3 p.m. the following day.

The situation is compounded by the diversion of 17 arrivals to airports as far away as Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester. In the wake of the fire, firefighters and an airline official were rushed to the hospital with injuries, while a sixth person received on-site treatment but did not require further medical attention.

The ordeal unfolded on a fateful Tuesday evening when a vehicle fire broke out just before 9 p.m. Witnesses reported hearing vehicle alarms and loud explosions as the blaze rapidly tore through the upper floor of the car park, leaving devastation in its wake. One witness described the scene as if the entire car park had collapsed, with vehicles exploding at frequent intervals.

The London Luton Airport released a statement addressing the incident and its impact on flight operations. The statement conveyed that emergency services were still present at the scene and in the interest of safety for passengers and staff, all flights would remain suspended until at least 3 p.m. on the following day.

Passengers were strongly advised not to travel to the airport, as access to the area remained severely restricted, adding to the growing frustration and uncertainty among travellers.

Andrew Hopkinson, the Chief Fire Officer for Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, provided insight into the emergency response to the incident. The first report about the blaze was received at 8:47 pm and within ten minutes, the first two fire appliances were dispatched to the scene. The fire had originated on the third floor of the terminal car park two.

Speaking to reporters on-site, Hopkinson described the challenges faced by his team, stating that they encountered a severe and rapidly spreading fire that involved a large number of vehicles and eventually spread to multiple floors. The situation reached a critical point with a partial collapse of the car park, prompting the declaration of a major incident at 9:38 p.m.

The car park had a total capacity of slightly over 1,900 cars and it is estimated that up to 1,500 cars were located in the affected car park. To combat the blaze, a substantial response was mobilised, including 15 fire appliances, over 100 firefighters and various specialist resources.

The car park in question was newly constructed, according to the airport's website.

It was advertised as a modern multi-storey car park offering secure, on-site parking, with just a five-minute walk to the terminal entrance. The fire's impact on this facility left many passengers concerned about the safety of their vehicles and the status of their future bookings.

Those who had cars parked in the building or had made future reservations were advised to contact Luton Airport customer services for guidance and support.

One eyewitness, Russell Taylor, an account director from Kinross in Scotland, shared his account of the unfolding events. After flying in from Edinburgh, he witnessed the initial moments of the fire. Taylor recalled seeing a couple of fire engines responding to a car ablaze on the upper floor of the car park just after 9 p.m.

Within minutes, the upper floor was engulfed in flames, with car alarms blaring and loud explosions resonating as vehicles succumbed to the inferno. He marvelled at the astonishing speed at which the fire took hold, underscoring the urgency and intensity of the situation.

The East of England Ambulance Service reported that paramedics had transported five individuals suffering from smoke inhalation to the hospital for treatment, further highlighting the potential health risks associated with the incident.