Two dead in Alpine road tunnel after burning truck causes 900C inferno

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The Independent Online

At least one person was reported dead after a truck caught fire in a road tunnel linking France and Italy last night, reawakening memories of the Mont Blanc tunnel fire six years ago in which 39 people died.

At least two people died when a lorry caught fire in a road tunnel linking France and Italy last night, reawakening memories of the Mont Blanc tunnel fire six years ago in which 39 people died.

Italian firefighters found two bodies inside the eight-mile Fréjus Alpine tunnel after a truck carrying tyres burst into flames, said Andrea Fabi, a senior police official on the Italian side of the tunnel. "We don't know if we will find any more," he said.

One victim was an HGV driver who fled his vehicle and ran about half a mile through heavy smoke toward a safety area before collapsing, said Sylvaine Astic, a French regional official. The body of a second person was found in the same safety zone, she said.

A total of six vehicles ­ the tyre truck, an HGV transporting glue, two other articulated lorries and two fire vehicles ­ were burnt, said Lt-Col Michel Decker of the Savoie region fire brigade.

Temperatures inside the tunnel reached up to 900C (1,650F), Lt-Col Decker said, adding that the glue being transported by one truck contained polymer resins that become highly toxic when heated.

An investigation of the cause was under way, with rescue teams combing through ventilation shafts between the various safety zones in the tunnel. The tyre truck was losing fuel before the fire broke out, said an official of Sitaf, the company that runs the Italian side of the tunnel, citing video filmed on one of the closed-circuit cameras inside. Rescue workers were struggling to put out the blaze, which had spread to two more trucks, and were unable to reach parts of the tunnel due to thick black smoke. There were fears last night that parts of the tunnel may collapse.

Drivers who escaped told rescuers they had seen three or four people fleeing on foot, the official said. Those people had not been accounted for.

The French road authorities said the Fréjus tunnel will remain closed indefinitely. It is the major road connection between Lyon and Turin.

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