Press Association via AP
Passengers wait at St. Pancras International Station, London, following the cancellation of
all cross-channel Eurostar services, after a fire in the Channel Tunnel.

Fire Closes Chunnel; 32 Escape

September 11, 2008 05:01 PM
by Josh Katz
A fire broke out in the Chunnel between France and England today in one of the few incidents since its inception in 1994.
A fire started before 4 p.m. local time in the underwater road and railway that connects France and England on a train that was transporting trucks. A representative of Eurotunnel, the company that operates the tunnel, said the fire broke out about seven miles from the French entrance. A service tunnel allowed 32 people to evacuate, and, according the International Herald Tribune, firefighters have put out the fire.

Most of the people in the tunnel were truckers accompanying their vehicles, according to the Tribune. Agence France-Presse reports that six people “suffered smoke inhalation and eight were slightly injured.”

The Guardian reports that all service through the Chunnel has been suspended, and the SNCF, France’s rail operator, said that trains will not run through the tunnel until Friday.

The International Herald Tribune indicates that the cause of the fire is still unclear. The AFP cites Francoise Melhance, director of the regional prefect’s office, who said, “The fire appears to be accidental. It started in a truck brake system that overheated and spread to a tyre and then to two other trucks.”

The Tribune cites the French Interior Ministry, which said that “the fire started on a truck carrying phenol, a toxic, flammable product used in various industries.” The article also reports that “Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said the truck exploded.” But according to The Guardian, French authorities “could not confirm reports that the lorry was carrying the toxic chemical phenol.”

Background: Previous Chunnel incidents

Few incidents have occurred since the Chunnel opened in 1994. The most serious situation happened in 1996 when a fire broke out on a train carrying trucks. According to The Guardian, “That fire burned for more than five hours, wrecking the concrete lining and facilities over about half a mile of tunnel and causing £200 million worth of damage,” worth about $312.5 million in 1996 exchange rates.

Key Player: The Chunnel

The Chunnel began commercial services in May 1994. More than 212 million people have used it since, according to Sky News. Last year, an average of 49,000 passengers used the tunnel a day. There are three tunnels: one that travels from England to France, another from France to England, and a third smaller service tunnel between the two for maintenance work, ventilation for the other tunnels, and for evacuations.

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