|Mont Blanc Tunnel Fire
March 24, 1999
On March 24, 1999, a Belgian transport truck carrying flour and margarine caught fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel, a road tunnel in the Alps under the Mont Blanc Mountain, linking Chamonix, Haute-Savoie, France and Courmayeur, Aosta Valley, Italy. After traveling several miles since entering the tunnel, the driver was made aware of the fire when cars coming in the opposite direction flashed their headlights at him. At 10:53 a.m., he stopped in the middle of the tunnel to attempt to fight the fire, but he was forced back by flames erupting from his cab. At 10:55 a.m., tunnel employees triggered the fire alarm and stopped any more traffic from entering. Some of the traffic in the tunnels turned around and tried to leave the tunnel. But the dense smoke that had rapidly filled the tunnel quickly made this impossible. Most drivers rolled up their windows and waited for rescue. The ventilation system in the tunnel drove toxic smoke through the tunnel faster than anyone could run to safety. Many drivers near the blaze who attempted to leave their cars and seek refuge were quickly overcome. Two fire trucks from Chamonix responded within minutes. The tunnel was plunged into darkness when the fire melted the electric wiring. In the darkness and smoke, and with abandoned vehicles blocking their way, the fire trucks were unable to proceed. The fifteen firefighters from the trucks took shelter in one of the tunnel's emergency fire cubicles, where they could hear the roar of burning fuel running on the road surface, causing tires to pop and gas tanks to explode. They were rescued five hours later by another fire crew who reached them through a ventilation duct. Fourteen of them were in serious condition and one of them later died in a hospital. The fire burned for 56 hours and reached temperatures of 1,832?F, mainly because of the margarine load in the trailer, which was equivalent to a 6,000 gallon oil tanker. It spread to other cargo vehicles nearby that also carried combustible loads. Twenty-seven people died in their vehicles, and ten people died while trying to escape on foot. Of the initial 50 people trapped by the fire, only 12 survived. It took more than five days before the tunnel cooled enough for anyone to go inside.