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Barrow shipyard fire on BAE sub
Last updated 15:51, Tuesday, 31 March 2009
SHIPYARD workers were evacuated as firefighters battled a fire on Barrow’s second Astute class nuclear submarine last night.
BAE began an investigation today into the fire on the £1bn submarine Ambush, which is not yet nuclear powered.
The alarm was raised by a BAE firewatcher at 10.50pm after he spotted smoke in acoustic tiles on the outside of the £1bn Ambush.
Nuke subs are clad in tiles to reduce noise at sea, making them less detectable to an enemy. Night shift workers were evacuated from the giant Devonshire Dock Hall where the fire broke out.
It emerged firefighters were unable to begin putting it out for more than half an hour until it was established whether the burning tiles were of the type that give off lethal fumes, and whether any fire or smoke had spread inside the boat. The tiles turned out to be a less harmful type of rubber which don’t give off toxic fumes.
Five fire engines, including a turntable ladder and an emergency rescue vehicle, raced to the Devonshire Dock Hall.
A two-man fire team in breathing masks was sent inside the boat to check, but found it fire and smoke free.
Watch manager, Stuart Dolan, said the fire started after BAE night shift workers worked on gouging operations using equipment that causes sparks.
He said: “The fire was in the outer skin of the submarine. There was no serious damage. It transpired that the fire was
“It was hard to see anything because the area was sheeted up in a compartment behind hessian sheeting.
“All the information has to be gathered before you can make a commitment into the submarine itself. It took a good 40 minutes before we established what was involved.
“Extinguishing the fire took 25 minutes.
“I think there was some work being carried out prior to the fire, but that is for BAE to establish.”
“I think they were gouging, which obviously creates sparks.”
The fire was put out using a carbon dioxide gas system rather than water, to reduce the risk of damage to the new submarine and its electrical cables and equipment.
Manual workers union leader Azza Samms said: “As far as I am aware there was nobody in any danger. They did evacuate the area because obviously there was smoke, but they are treating it as a minor incident.”
BAE said in a statement that the fire would not affect the submarine’s programme.
The statement said: “Last night, there was a small conventional fire external to the boat during routine gouging activity.
“Some sparks inadvertently ignited some rubber tiles, emitting smoke.
“The precautionary decision was taken to evacuate members of boat staff from the Devonshire Dock Hall, in line with good practice and standard safety procedures. The incident lasted less than 90 minutes and all staff returned to work at 12.15am. In line with safety procedures, a full investigation will be carried out.”
BAE spokesman Neil Lauderdale said: “The damage is insignificant and eight tiles will need replacing, which will take in the region of one week. “