Tunnel fire under English Channel, 6 injured

By: AP
By: AP

PARIS (AP) -- A fire broke out Thursday on a train carrying trucks under the English Channel between England and France, injuring six people and shutting down traffic in the undersea rail tunnel, officials said.

About 100 firefighters from both sides of the channel got the blaze under control, but it was not entirely extinguished hours later, said Georges Bos, a spokesman for France's Pas-de-Calais region, which was handling the emergency response.

Eurotunnel, the company that operates the tunnel, had said earlier that the fire broke out about 7 miles from the French side and had been put out.

The train was carrying 32 people when the fire broke out just before 4 p.m., Eurotunnel said. Most were truck drivers accompanying their vehicles, and all were evacuated safely, the company said.

Traffic in the 30-mile tunnel would remain suspended until Friday, France's rail operator SNCF said. Eurostar, the passenger train operator, said none of its trains was in the tunnel when the fire began.

Eurotunnel said the fire erupted on one of the trucks loaded on the train, but the cause had not been determined. Bos said that it appeared to be accidental - with the source believed to be a truck tire - but that a police investigation would determine the exact cause.

The French regional administration office in Calais said six people were taken to a hospital after inhaling smoke. Their conditions were not immediately available. Eight more people were treated at the scene.

French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was traveling to the scene, her office said.

The blaze caused havoc for travelers and truckers frantically seeking to book ferries across the channel after train traffic was suspended.

"I'm angry because I don't have any money and I don't know where I will stay tonight," said Lydia Anaral, an 18-year-old student stranded at St. Pancras International Station in London.

Eurostar officials told travelers they could not provide hotel rooms or airplane tickets because the fire was not their responsibility and beyond their control.

Fires have rarely happened in the tunnel, which opened for commercial traffic in 1994.

In August 2006, the tunnel was closed for several hours after a fire broke out on a truck loaded onto a freight train. No one was hurt.

A larger fire broke out on a train carrying cargo trucks through the tunnel Nov. 18, 1996. Several people were injured and a large stretch of the tunnel was damaged. The fire led to new safety precautions for trains using the tunnel.

Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Gregory Katz in London contributed to this report.

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