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LONDON-A fire at an oil depot north of London has caused Europe’s biggest peacetime blaze. The area houses headquarters and distribution warehouses for some of Britain’s biggest companies. The blaze at the Buncefield terminal in Hemel Hempstead–25 miles north of London–is still being fueled by 16 million litres of gasoline, kerosene and aviation fuel.

The explosions came days after Al-Qaida called for attacks on facilities carrying oil “stolen” from Muslims in the Middle East. But the police were quick to say the fire appears to have been the result of an accident and stressed there is nothing to suggest terrorists might have caused it.

Throughout the day, a steady stream of businesses gave updates to the stock exchange. The area around the fuel depots houses a range of industrial and business estates as well as residential neighborhoods. Several leading quoted companies have head offices and distribution centres there.

Britain’s biggest brewer, Scottish & Newcastle, said the fire caused “significant” damage to its main distribution centre for its subsidiary Waverly TBS, a wines and spirits wholesaler. “We believe that WTBS will have incurred significant asset losses but we believe that all asset and subsequent trading losses will be fully recovered from our insurers,” Scottish & Newcastle said.

Software and outsourcing firm Northgate Information Solutions, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of specialist software for human resources, was also hit and said its head office had been “seriously damaged” by the blast. Four of its employees were taken to hospital but were later discharged. DSG International, the owner of retail chains Dixons and Currys, said its head office, housing 1,500 administrative workers, was closed, although it stressed there would be no knock-on disruption to trading.

Shares in online fashion retailer ASOS were suspended after the explosion damaged its warehouse. Fast-growing Internet fashion retailer Asos PLC (ASC.LN) confirmed Monday that its sole warehouse in the U.K. had been damaged by the weekend explosions at Buncefield fuel depot outside London. Chief executive Nick Robertson said it was impossible to assess the amount of damage as the site was still ablaze by mid-morning Monday, but there had been about GBP5 million to GBP5.5 million worth of stock in the warehouse. The depot is Asos’ only one, and it had no other source of supply.

He added that the company had been hoping for a significant rise in sales over Christmas, as consumers move increasingly toward Internet spending. Those expectations will be affected “quite dramatically”, he said.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reassured companies that they would be covered for the effects of the fire, which did not result in any fatalities. “The standard business policy covers that,” an ABI spokesman said. The spokesman said some companies may make large claims but that it was too early to estimate the total cost.

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