Chaos on Britain’s forecourts has continued today as motorists followed confusing advice issued by government ministers to keep their tanks topped up, with one even suggesting using jerry cans.

Queues got so bad in some areas causing problems on the main roads, that forecourts were temporarily closed by police.

Mark Wilson, operations manager at Oxfordshire-based Fraser Retail, compared the situation to the last major fuel crisis more than a decade ago.

“This is as bad as 2000 and we’ve not even had a strike yet,” he said. “It’s manic but we’ve been well supported by BP. We’re ordering lots more – we’re taking double the number of tankers than usual. BP has been able to fulfill our orders to make sure we don’t run dry, so we haven’t had to ration fuel. We’re not fully stocked because we’re selling fuel as quickly as we get it.

“Some sites are seeing as much as a 60-70% uplift in volume and that’s getting higher as the competition around us runs out. Supermarkets are running dry and that’s a marketing opportunity for us to showcase our business. Some people say it’s a crisis – I say it’s an opportunity!”

John Mason, managing director at Peregrine Retail, said: “We’re doing very well and not running out of fuel. Everyone else around Ringwood ran out it became much busier for us. Normally we do about 15-16,000 litres a day, but sold 40,000 litres yesterday. We’re already over that today, and we’ve not even hit our busy time. We’ve been helped by others running out.

“We’re ordering a full load a day. We’ll try to stay as fully stocked as we can be if ultimately the drivers go to strike. BP has their own delivery drivers but they won’t cross the picket line, so we’ll have to wait and see. A lot of the commotion is just motorists panicking. They could be a strike in the next 28 days, and the union has to give seven days’ notice, so it’s all a bit daft.

“We had people queueing on the road since 6am this morning and it was the same yesterday. I wouldn’t consider rationing because that would get so complicated and cause even more confusion.”

Another retailer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he had avoided running dry by sourcing an interim delivery from a local independent fuel supplier.

“All the garages nearby ran out and although we had a delivery from our oil company scheduled, it would have come too late so we would have run out if I hadn’t got an additional delivery from an independent supplier.”

Andrew Owens, chief executive of Greenergy which supplies 10 billion litres of road fuels in the UK, said:

“We have seen a very significant uplift in sales beginning on Tuesday and continuing through yesterday and today, and have been working flat out to maintain stock levels at our customers’ sites. But we don’t believe the current hike in demand is sustainable – it’s likely that demand will drop off once the public’s cars are full.”

Martyn Ward, commercial director at grocery wholesaler Palmer and Harvey, which supplies up to 70% of UK petrol stations, said: ”The fuel supply in many areas of the UK is already at breaking point. A strike could be the last straw for motorists already hit by the double whammy of record fuel prices and petrol station shortages. Our Forecourt Report 2011 showed a dramatic decrease in the number of petrol stations over the past 20 years, from 21,000 to fewer than 9,000. Over the same period the number of cars on the road increased 50% to 31 million. Areas of Britain were already in danger of becoming fuel deserts before the threat of the upcoming petrol strike.

“Communities in the South East have been worst affected – in Berkshire there is just one petrol station for 4,111 cars. The result is that many motorists are struggling to find anywhere to fill up, leading to a 40% increase between January and June 2011 in fuel-related call-outs as motorists run out of petrol, according to research by Green Flag.”