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Fréjus provisionnal report english summary

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publié le 20 avril 2010

On 4 June 2005, at around 5:48 pm, a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) loaded with tyres, caught fire in the Fréjus Tunnel between France and Italy ; the fire spread to three other HGVs, killing two people and causing extensive material damage, which forced the tunnel to close for two months.
The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, Tourism and the Sea decided to launch a technical investigation, which was entrusted to the Land Transport Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA-TT) on 6 June 2005.
This report is based on the work of the technical investigators, who were able to examine the tunnel before the burnt-out vehicles were removed and meet several times with the main parties that intervened in the event (statutory companies and fire officers). As provided by the law, the investigators were also able to access data from the French judicial inquiry. An assignment was entrusted to the Centre for Tunnel Studies in order to analyse the behaviour of the tunnel’s equipment during the fire and to recreate the ventilation conditions and the smoke’s circulation using a digital model. As this analysis is not yet complete, the final report will be published at a later date.

The direct cause of the event was a spontaneous fire in a HGV during its journey through the tunnel, combined with a type of load (tyres) that is particularly inflammable, exothermic and likely to produce toxic smoke. The rapid development of the fire and smoke is linked to three factors :
- the driver of the HGV did not stop his vehicle quickly enough after the fire started, so as to raise the alert ;
- traffic regulation staff in the central control room found it difficult to clearly identify the nature and location of the incident, which delayed the activation of the smoke ejection system ;
- the smoke ejection system was fairly ineffective, notably as a result of the difficulty in locating the burning HGV
Despite the rapid response of the concession holders’ emergency services, the users stuck behind the fire could not be evacuated and taken to safety according to normal procedure. Five factors were brought to light :
- because of the time it takes to pass through the tunnel, the concession holders’ emergency services were unable to reach those users stuck downwind of the fire in time to help them ;
- the efforts of the concession holders’ emergency services, notably during their attempts to save the two victims, was greatly hindered by the extreme atmospheric conditions encountered (opacity and toxicity of the smoke, heat), combined with the loss of radio contact and the unsuitability of some of the equipment (infrared cameras) ;
- the tunnel’s operational and safety equipment quickly began to malfunction as a result of the fire, making it more difficult to reach the shelters and hindering the actions of the emergency services (radio cables, lighting and shelter airtightness). In addition, certain safety equipment had not yet been upgraded to the desired level (distance between emergency exits) ;
- user knowledge of the risks and the behaviours to be adopted in a tunnel such as Fréjus, especially in the case of emergencies or fires, remains inadequate, even among professionals (this was the case for the victims, who did not identify the danger in time) ;
- users travelling through the tunnel towards the fire could not be alerted in time to stop them before they entered the danger zone and to provide them with practical instructions.

Seventeen recommendations were put forward subsequent to the technical investigation, in five areas identified for preventive action.
- spontaneous HGV fires, notably in tunnels : recommendations R1 and R2 involve engaging in a feedback process and studying the rules applicable to the transport of certain goods.
- tunnel characteristics and equipment : recommendations R3 to R10 aim to reinforce the safety systems and improve their behaviour in the event of a fire. In particular, recommendation R7 on the distance between emergency exits requires a rapid decision to be made regarding the creation of an escape gallery or a second circulation tube
- intervention by the emergency services : recommendations R11 to R13 recommend reducing call-out times, searching for a suitable infrared camera solution and examining the possibility of harmonizing the means of intervention of the emergency services at both ends of the tunnel.
- user knowledge of the risks and instructions to follow when passing through the tunnel : recommendations R14 to R16 involve monitoring the effectiveness of information and communication campaigns, circulating emergency instructions in real time, and training professional drivers
- organisational aspects : recommendation R17 relates to the set-up of a joint operating body