The fire

On 24 March 1999, at about 11 in the morning, a heavy vehicle from Belgium, carrying a cargo of margarine and flour in the France-Italy direction, stops near safe place n░ 21 (6.5 km from the French entrance) because of a fire that has broken out under the bonnet and that, in rapid succession, spreads to the cab and the trailer. The vehicles following it are queued up close to each other and become involved in the development of the incident.

Because of the nature of the fuel and the confined conditions caused by the infrastructure, temperatures of over 1100░ are probably reached and sustained for many hours. The considerable quantity of smoke does not allow the tunnel users in the queue to understand the situation and it traps them in their vehicles, which are subsequently reached by the flames. The line of vehicles coming from Italy, which has stopped at over 300 m from the source of the fire, also catches fire.

The increase in temperature is very rapid and does not allow the rescue teams to get near the source of the fire. The heat produced by the lorries is retained by the road surface which in turn contributes towards combustion. The smoke, which from the start proves to be intense and opaque, is the cause of the serious death toll.

The heavy loss of lives

Only many hours later is the event revealed in all its gravity to the tunnel operators and the rescue services. The accident has destroyed 34 vehicles, consisting of 23 lorries, 9 cars, 1 van and 1 fire engine over an area of 1.3 km, and has caused the death of 39 people.