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2020/04

Report on fire in heavy goods vehicle in the Gudvangen tunnel, in Aurland municipality on the Norwegian National Road 16, on the 30 March 2019

At approximately 03.30 on 30 March 2019, a Norwegian heavy goods vehicle caught fire in the 11.4-km-long Gudvanga tunnel. This was the third fire in a large vehicle in this tunnel since 2013. No one was seriously injured, but 4 people were treated for light smoke-injuries. Previous tunnel fires have shown that it is demanding to safeguard the preconditions for the self-rescue principle in long single-bore tunnels. The NSIA finds that on this occasion, the road users quickly became aware of the situation, and they all took prompt action to remove themselves from the situation based on limited information. This incident highlights both how demanding it is to reverse a heavy goods vehicle in a tunnel, and also how little it takes for road users to become trapped in smoke. When a major fire occurs in a long single-bore tunnel with no emergency exits, there are no physical barriers or aids other than the tunnel ventilation that can protect road users from smoke and toxic fire gases. The investigation shows that the time window is narrow, and it is difficult to avoid road users becoming trapped in smoke. The NSIA is of the opinion that compensatory measures should be established, and therefore submits a safety recommendation.

The tunnel was in the process of being upgraded at the time of the incident, and the level of safety was comparable to that at the time of the 2013 fire. There were 33 persons inside the tunnel when the fire started: 28 tunnel workers and 5 road users. The Traffic Control Centre (VTS) had limited camera surveillance, the number of road users in the tunnel was not registered, and VTS had no way of communicating with individual road users unless they themselves contacted VTS or the emergency services.

The fire started in the first of four heavy goods vehicles driving together in a convoy led by an escort vehicle. The driver made an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the fire. He then got into the escort car and remained there as the car drove forward, away from the fire. At the same time, the escort car driver had notified VTS of the fire using the SOS telephone in the tunnel, and he tried to get the other three heavy goods vehicles in the convoy to follow him and drive past the fire. 

Only the first of the three followed, while the two heavy goods vehicles at the rear of the convoy remained behind the burning vehicle. The drivers tried to reverse them away, and they managed to put sufficient distance between their vehicles and the fire to prevent the fire from spreading. The smoke caught up with them, and they had to abandon the reversing. Both the drivers then chose to leave their vehicle and evacuate away from the fire on foot. It was dark, and the only aid they had was the light from their own mobile phones. 

These drivers were exposed to smoke for approx. 22 minutes, and carbon monoxide was detected in the blood of both drivers after they came out of the tunnel. The rest of the people in the tunnel made their way out without assistance before the emergency services arrived at the tunnel.

Despite thorough investigations, it has not been possible to determine exactly why this heavy goods vehicle caught fire.

The NSIA proposes one safety recommendation on compensating measures for the lack of emergency exits in long single-bore tunnels.

Published 21.08.2020

Safety recommendation

Safety recommendation ROAD No 2020/05T

During the fire in the Gudvanga tunnel on 30 March 2019, two persons evacuated the tunnel on foot over a distance of approx. 1 km in dense smoke with no visibility and with no other aids that the torch function on their own mobile phones. They were exposed to the smoke from the fire for approx. 22 minutes, and carbon monoxide detected in the blood of both of them can be linked to the fire. Experience from this fire and the NSIA's previous investigations of fires in long single-bore tunnels without emergency exits show that the time margins are small, it is difficult to prevent road users from becoming trapped in the smoke, and there are no physical barriers or aids that can protect road users from smoke and toxic fire gases.

The Norwegian Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Norwegian Public Roads Administration implement measures to compensate for the lack of emergency exits and fresh air alternatives for road users who have been trapped in smoke in long single-bore tunnels.

Facts

Location Gudvangen tunnel, European Road 16, Vestland county
Occurrence date 30.03.2019
Accident type Fire in vehicle
Road class European road
County Vestland
Police Disctrict Vest
Vehicle type Truck and trailer
Type of Transportation Freight transport
Road region National road NPRA
Accident category Ulykke i tunnel