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Fire in Alpine road tunnel between Italy and France

Sunday, June 5, 2005

Firefighters at work

Italian firefighters say a truck burst into flames inside the 13 km (8 mile) Frejus tunnel under the Alps. Two bodies have been recovered from the tunnel between Italy and France. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, the truck which caught fire was carrying tires, and the fire has spread to three other vehicles: another truck, loaded with paint, a van of the French tunnel company and a car. For much of the night, Italian emergency services were being held back about a mile from the fire by the intense heat, but the fire has now been put out. Several vehicles are thought to be still in the tunnel. Police are trying to contact a group of people who escaped on foot in order to assess whether people were trapped inside.

French officials have stated that all people who made it to safety alcoves (ventilated shelters directly linked to a fresh air shaft) on the French side of the tunnel have been safely rescued. The Italian side of the tunnel is now being searched for bodies by the Italian emergency services.

Fire crews seen from the webcam outside the tunnel

The tunnel has a 0.54% uphill gradient going from the French to the Italian side. Heat and smoke generally escaped on the Italian side, as the uphill tunnel acted like a chimney that sucked in cold fresh air from the French side.

Val Fréjus is a city on the French side of the border, in the Rhône-Alpes département.

A fire in a similar tunnel under the Alps (the Mont Blanc Tunnel) reached temperatures of 1,000° Celsius and killed 39 people in 1999.

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