The demolition of three ‘death towers’ – where four workers were killed three years ago – left 40,000 homes without power early this morning as an electricity pylon that caught fire caused sparks ‘that burned’ to rain down on spectators.
Homes around Didcot, Oxfordshire, blacked out when explosives which were meant to crumble the former coal-fueled plant’s remaining three northern cooling towers also blew up a power substation at 7am, it has been claimed.
Shock waves were sent through the 375ft tall towers, causing them to collapse in to a cloud of debris just after sunrise today. An online tracker showed more than 2,700 postcodes were affected by a power outage from the moment they fell.
And an electricity pylon near the site caught fire as the towers fell, causing sparks to fall over people, including young children, as they watched the demolition.
As shock waves are sent through the 375ft tall towers they start to crumble and collapse
Homes blacked out across Didcot, Oxfordshire, when explosives sent shock waves through the 375ft tall towers, causing them to crumble and collapse in a cloud of debris at 7am
Power was out for more than an hour as Scottish and Southern Electricity engineers battled to restore electricity by 8.20am.
Among those caught up in the incident was a mother and her two daughters, aged five and three. The three-year-old suffered burned hair in the incident.
Their mother, who asked not to be named, told the Oxford Mail: ‘It rained down with sparks that burned, and we got burned.
‘My five year-old ran away so she wasn’t hurt, but the three year-old was busy watching videos and some of her hair was burnt. But she’s fine now, it mostly got her hair.
‘Some people said it was a drone which hit the power lines, but then other people have said it was debris, so at the moment we aren’t sure what caused it. It was frightening though. Everybody screamed and ran.’
A spokesman for Scottish and Southern Electricity said: ‘Shortly after 7am this morning, SSEN received reports of damage to its network at Sutton Courtenay, following the demolition of the nearby Didcot Power Station.
‘SSEN engineers attended site to make the situation safe and power was fully restored to the 40,000 customers affected by 8.20am.
The center cooling tower is brought down first, followed by the other two northern towers
Nothing but a cloud of rubble is left following the demolition. People who live in the area say house prices could rise now the towers have gone
‘An investigation is underway as to the cause of the incident and SSEN is working with all relevant authorities. Further details will be shared once they are known.’
The coal-fired station was turned off in 2013 after 43 years in service, but plans to clear the side by the end of 2017 had to be put on hold after four workers were killed.
Michael Collings, 53, died when the site’s boiler house collapsed in February 2016
Ken Cresswell, 57, John Shaw, 61, Michael Collings, 53, and Christopher Huxtable, 34, died when the site’s boiler house collapsed while they were preparing it for demolition in February 2016.
It took more than six months for the four men’s bodies to be recovered from the rubble as the site was deemed too dangerous for humans to enter.
It was only when three southern towers were demolished in 2014 that three of the bodies could be found.
Today crowds watched at daybreak as a controlled blast brought the three northern towers crashing down.
The site’s owners RWE said it would ‘actively discourage all forms of public participation’ amid fears spectators would try to take selfies where four men had died.
In the February 2016 tragedy, one of the men was quickly found but the other three were listed as missing because it was too unsafe to search for them in the disaster area.
Crowds gathered at the site as the sun rose – ready to watch as the three towers were brought down
Dramatic pictures show how the large towers were quickly brought crumbling down
Hundreds of people gathered in areas surrounding the towers as they watched the landscape change
Five people were injured, three seriously, and another 50 were treated for dust inhalation.
On July 17th, 2016, what remained of the boiler house was demolished in a controlled explosion.
The bodies of the three missing men were still in the remains at that time.
A spokesman said that due to the instability of the structure, they had been unable to recover the bodies.
Ken Cresswell, 57, John Shaw (left), 61, Michael Collings, 53, and Christopher Huxtable (right), 34, died when the site’s boiler house collapsed while they were preparing it for demolition in February 2016
On September 8th police confirmed they had found the body of one of the remaining two missing men, identified as Ken Cresswell, 57 (pictured)
Grieving families said they wanted their dead relatives back intact, but the demolition company highlighted the inherent danger of rescue operations, saying ‘legally you could not justify humans going back in.’.
The search for the missing men continued the day after the controlled demolition.
On August 31st, 2016, it was confirmed that a body had been found in the rubble and the search had been paused to allow specialist teams to recover the body, identified on September 3, 2016, as Christopher Huxtable from Swansea.
On September 8th police confirmed they had found the body of one of the remaining two missing men, identified as Ken Cresswell.
As the explosion brought down the three towers a power substation was also blown up, leaving thousands of homes without power
People photograph the moment the landscape changed for the first time since the construction of the towers in 1968
The last missing worker was found on 9 September. He was identified as John Shaw from Rotherham.
In a letter to residents ahead of today’s blast, RWE said ‘To ensure that members of the community are kept safe during the demolition process, RWE is actively discouraging all forms of public participation, including attempts to view the demolition from close quarters.’
Tiernan Foley, RWE’s demolition project manager, said ‘We understand the power station has been part of the local community for over 48 years and for many people the demolition will mark a significant day for both Didcot and Oxfordshire.
Lyn Bowen, 79, of East Hanney, near Wantage, switched the power station on in 1970 and off in 2013 wearing the same boiler suit
The station’s large main chimney is still to be demolished. It is thought this will happen in the autumn
‘We would like to thank the local community for their support and all the people who have worked at the site.’
The 650ft chimney, one of the tallest structures in the UK, will be demolished separately in early autumn, on a date yet to be revealed.
The power station, commissioned in 1968, closed in 2013, and thousands of people gathered at vantage points to see the first three of the six 325ft cooling towers blown up on Sunday, July 27th, 2014.
The blast was timed for 5am despite a campaign to make it 6am or later to enable local people to watch.
Many thousands of people gathered at numerous vantage points, as well as those who watched the towers come down via a live Internet stream and the event trended heavily on Twitter.
Didcot A Power Station was a coal and gas-fired power station designed by architect Frederick Gibberd and construction for the Central Electricity
Generating Board began in 1964 and was completed in 1968 at a cost of £104m, with up to 2,400 workers being employed at peak times.
English Heritage declined to give listed building status to Didcot A Power Station in 2013.
In 2003, Country Life readers voted the landmark Britain’s third worst eyesore, but others have found the structures to be a source of inspiration for poetry. Pictured, crowds gather to watch its destruction
It took just ten seconds, after several months of planning, for the towers to fall
In November 2006, thirty Greenpeace activists invaded the power station and some chained themselves to a broken coal-carrying conveyor belt while a second group scaled the 650ft high chimney and set up a ‘climate camp’.
They proceeded to paint ‘Blair’s Legacy’ on the side of the chimney overlooking Didcot, claiming the power station was the second most polluting in Britain after Drax in North Yorkshire.
Lyn Bowen, 79, of East Hanney, near Wantage, worked for Central Energy Generating Board and, wearing his boiler suit, switched on coal-fired Didcot A power station on September 30, 1970.
In March 2013, he was asked to switch off the power station and did so dressed in the same boiler suit.
He said ‘When the last three cooling towers go it will totally change the landscape – Didcot is not a pretty place and it’s possible that house prices will go up.
‘I will miss seeing the cooling towers but what I really miss is the loss of our industrial base.
Even as the sun began to rise crowds had gathered waiting for the demolition to begin
‘These huge industries have gone and the last three towers going are a symbol of an era that has gone.’
When he switched off the power station in 2013 he gave a thumbs-down to staff because he said it ‘felt negative’.
He said at the time: ‘Didcot A should not close – it should go on for a few years yet because the country is desperate for power.’
Now he says he is still not convinced by the alternatives to coal, describing wind farms and solar power as ‘a joke’.
The power station’s gigantic, concrete towers have divided public opinion.
In 2003, Country Life readers voted the landmark Britain’s third worst eyesore, but others have found the structures to be a source of inspiration for poetry.
Didcot A was commissioned in 1964 by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) before it was connected to the national grid in 1970.
The town’s railway line and proximity to the Thames also meant the location was right for the tonnes of coal and gallons of water the power station would require.
The 2,000 megawatt (MW) station operated until 2013, when RWE Power move to decommission it when new EU reduced emissions rules were brought in.
RWE said it had planned today’s demolition over several months with its contractor Brown and Mason, liaising with the relevant local authorities.