FIRE INVESTIGATORS last week staged a partial re-enactment of the Mont Blanc tunnel blaze, a year after the original inferno killed 41 people.
The re-enactment is part of an evidence gathering operation for the French judicial authorities who are trying to establish how those trapped in the blaze died.
Investigating magistrates are expected to hand the tunnel over to private contractors next week, paving the way for a £100M, 54-week repair and upgrading programme. This will focus on 600m of severely damaged tunnel lining.
The original fire started when a lorry carrying 9t of margarine and flour ignited.
Fire fighters took 53 hours to put it out (NCE 1/8 April 1999).
The fire was restaged inside the tunnel, using a similar truck, carrying 400kg of margarine. This was allowed to burn for just under 15 minutes so investigators could monitor gases given off. It is thought the victims suffocated within 15 minutes of the blaze starting but it is not known whether they were killed by carbon monoxide or fuel from the lorry's refrigeration system.
French motorway operator Scetauroute and its Italian counterpart Spea are due to take control of the structure from judicial investigators next week.