CHAMBERY, France – A truck loaded with tires and another carrying paint caught fire along with two other vehicles Saturday inside an 8-mile-long Alpine tunnel between France and Italy, killing at least one person and shutting down the roadway, officials and a news reports said.
Some trucks reportedly were trapped inside as firefighters swarmed to the Frejus Alpine tunnel (search), the national highway information center said. Hours after the fire erupted, about a mile of the tunnel could not be explored by rescuers because of dense smoke and heat, the Italian news agency ANSA (search) quoted Italian firefighters as saying.
The firefighters said four vehicles had caught fire: the truck loaded with tires, another loaded with paint, a van of the French tunnel company and a car, ANSA reported.
Italian firefighters found one body inside the tunnel, an Italian highway police official said. It was not immediately clear whether it was a man or woman, said Giovanni Prestigiacomo (search), an official with the highway authority in Susa, a town near the Italian entrance.
The firefighters were also trying to locate three or four people seen trying to flee by foot who might have taken refuge in one of the safety areas lining the tunnel to be used for emergencies, he said. The body was found in one such area, he added.
"Motorists who drove out of the tunnel told rescuers that they had seen three or four people fleeing on foot," Prestigiacomo said.
An official in the French town of Chambery (search) confirmed one person had died, but said others who had taken refuge in tunnel safety zones on the French side had been taken out to safety.
"All the people who were in the safety alcoves have been evacuated," said Annick Bien (search), a spokeswoman for the regional prefecture. She said the fire was continuing, and confirmed one person had died.
The blaze revived memories of the 1999 fire in the nearby Mont Blanc tunnel that killed 39 people. That fire burned for two days while firefighters tried to reach trapped cars.