Incinerated. Burned truck carried tires.

A truck carrying tires caught fire for unknown reasons 5.6 km from the northern portal after 6 pm, says Laurence Brassac, spokeswoman for the French side, government-owned operator Société Française du Tunnel Routier de Fréjus. This is the second recent fire in the tunnel following a non-fatal incident in 2000, she adds.

Opened in 1980, the 10-m-wide tunnel runs between Modane, France, and Bardonecchia, Italy, on the Lyons-Turin corridor, under up to 1.7 km of rock. Fire safety features include five vehicle turning areas and 11 ventilated people shelters. Ministers from France and Italy visiting the tunnel in April spoke about possibly building a second bore or gallery, but no firm plans exist.

While the Fréjus fire is being probed, the impact of two worse Alpine fires six years ago still are being felt. In Austria, work on a second bore will start next spring at the 6.4 km Tauern tunnel, where 12 people died in June 1999.

Tauern operator Autobahnen-und Schnellstraßen-Finanzierungs-Aktiengesellschaft started work on the 5.4-km-long Katsch tunnel, on the same highway, late last year, says company spokeswoman Anita Oberholzer. The $390-million program to duplicate and refurbish the tunnels is due to end in 2010.

In France, 15 people are facing suspended prison sentences and fines over their alleged role in the March 1999 blaze at the 11.6-km Mont Blanc tunnel where 39 people died. Defendants include officials from the French and Italian operators and Michel Charlet, Mayor of nearby Chamonix.

wo men died and over 15 were affected by fumes during a six-hour truck fire in the 12.9-kilometer-long Fréjus Alpine tunnel between France and Italy on June 4. The tunnel was closed indefinitely while judicial and technical investigations were launched. No collapse occurred, though the scale of damage was uncertain at press time.