Deadly fire closes Frejus tunnel for summer

6th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

MODANE, France, June 5 (AFP) - The Frejus tunnel linking France and Italy through the Alps will remain closed for months after a massive blaze that killed two Slovenian truck drivers, authorities said Sunday.

MODANE, France, June 5 (AFP) - The Frejus tunnel linking France and Italy through the Alps will remain closed for months after a massive blaze that killed two Slovenian truck drivers, authorities said Sunday.  

"We have 10 kilometres (six miles) to clear out and repair. We'll be counting that time in months, rather than weeks," said Gilbert Santel, president of the company that runs the French side of the tunnel.  

The deadly blaze in the Frejus tunnel, which broke out on Saturday, immediately brought to mind the massive inferno that raged through the Mont Blanc tunnel, another Alpine road link, in 1999, killing 39 people.  

On Saturday, a truck transporting tires from France caught fire about halfway through the 13-kilometer (eight-mile) Frejus tunnel linking Modane on the French side with the Italian town of Bardonecchia.  

The blaze spread rapidly, engulfing several vehicles and killing the two Slovenian drivers, identified as 23-year-old Doliban Vukanovic and 24-year-old Pavol Blanarovik.   Several others suffered from smoke inhalation, but were not seriously hurt.  

Firefighters needed six hours to bring the flames under control.  

"I saw a man running towards me. I immediately turned off my ignition and started running towards Italy," said French driver Yannick Ayache.  

Michel Bouvard, a parliamentary deputy from the region, warned that the closure of the Frejus tunnel would spark serious truck traffic problems in the area, forcing most lorries to use the Mont Blanc tunnel to reach Italy.  

"This accident shows the urgent need for the Lyon-Turin rail link," Bouvard said, referring to an ambitious EUR 12.5 billion (USD 15.3 billion) European plan for a high-speed Alpine train line to relieve highway traffic.  

The Lyon-Turin railway is expected to pass through a 52-kilometre (33-mile) tunnel and would require the installation of 300 kilometres of new tracks.  

French Transport Minister Dominique Perben, in Modane on Sunday, pledged to push through tougher road safety measures following Saturday's blaze and a handful of other deadly weekend accidents on France's roads.  

Perben, who took over the transport ministry in last week's major reshuffle of the French government, insisted that security measures had helped save lives, saying: "The intervention plan worked well."  

The Frejus tunnel fire was apparently started by a fuel leak. Ugo Jallasse of the Italian tunnel operating company SITAF said cameras had shown diesel oil escaping from the tire transport truck.  

"It's possible that there was a mechanical failure. The fuel hit the engine and caught fire and in an instant the truck was ablaze," Jallasse said.  

French officials said a total of five vehicles had gone up in flames.  

A series of security improvements were made following the Mont Blanc tunnel fire, but local officials on both sides of the Frejus link said more needed to be done.  

Italian firefighters cited by Italy's ANSA news agency said heat sensing equipment on the Italian side of the tunnel worked but apparently failed on the French side.  

The Frejus tunnel was opened to road traffic in 1980 but has come under increasing strain in recent years due to the growing amount of trans-Alpine traffic.  

French and Italian transport ministers have discussed plans to build a second tunnel alongside the first, with a smaller gallery between the two to allow for evacuation in case of fire.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article