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France-Italy tunnel fire kills two

MODANE, France -- Six vehicles, including a truck loaded with tires and another carrying glue, caught fire yesterday in an Alpine tunnel between France and Italy. At least two people were killed, officials said.

One victim was a truck driver who had fled his vehicle and had run about a half-mile through heavy smoke to a safety zone before collapsing, said a French regional official, Sylvaine Astic. The body of a second person was found in the same area, she said.

Temperatures inside the Fréjus tunnel reached up to 1,650 degrees, said Lieutenant Colonel Michel Decker of the Savoie region fire brigade. The glue in the truck contained polymer resins that become toxic when heated.

Decker said six vehicles were burned -- four trucks and two fire vehicles.

Traffic through the 8-mile tunnel was halted as firefighters rushed into the passage, the national highway information center said. Authorities said the tunnel was evacuated; only firefighters were inside putting out the remnants of the blaze.

An investigation of the fire's cause was being conducted.

The tire truck was losing fuel before the fire broke out, said an official of Sitaf, the company that runs the Italian side of the tunnel.

''All of a sudden, I saw smoke pour into the right side of my truck," Dalibor Biksanovic, a 23-year-old Serb, told ANSA. The agency identified him as the driver of the tire truck.

The blaze revived memories of the 1999 fire in the nearby Mont Blanc tunnel, in 39 people were killed. That fire burned for two days while firefighters tried to reach the trapped cars.

The Fréjus tunnel has safety zones every 300 yards, and its fire alarm systems were renovated after the Mont Blanc tunnel fire.

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