While I walked around Mont Blanc recently climbing the mountain passes, cars and trucks thundered below.
The Mont Blanc tunnel is a great piece of engineering measuring over 11 kilometres connecting France and Italy. Unfortunately, it is not only famous for its construction but also a tragic fire. As we were about to drive through the tunnel I noticed a large memorial at its entrance. The memorial is a tribute to the 38 people killed in the tunnel when a fire broke out in a truck in 1999.
A truck carrying flour and margarine entered the tunnel. Unaware the truck was on fire the driver kept going until several motorists flashed their lights at him. Stopping in the middle of the tunnel he tried to extinguish the fire but was forced back by the flames.
The fire burned for 53 hours and reaching temperatures of 1,000 degrees celsius, engulfed many other motorists in the tunnel. The margarine in the truck, equivalent to a 23,000 litres oil fuelled the fire.
After the disaster the tunnel was closed for three years. Renovations included computerised detection equipment, extra security bays, an escape shaft and a fire station in the middle of the tunnel with fire trucks.
There is also a remote site for cargo inspection on both the Italian and French sides of the tunnel to try and prevent another disaster.