Fire Dynamics During the Channel Tunnel Fires

Published:  19 April, 2010

Three major fire incidents have occurred in the Channel Tunnel since it opened in the early 90s. The fires on the 18th of November 1996 and the 11th of September 2008 grew to involve many heavy goods vehicles (HGV) on carrier wagons and caused major damage to the tunnel structure. The fire on the 21st of August 2006 involved only a single HGV and did not spread, although the adjacent HGV was damaged by heat. Each of these incidents is described and the incidents are compared.

The official inquiry into the 2008 fire has not yet been published, so information has been collected from press reports. It is clear that the fire development in 1996 and 2008 was broadly similar, while the fire in 2006 was very different. These differences may be due to the cargo and construction of the vehicles involved, but also may be due to the differences in ventilation during the incidents. The conventional model of fire dynamics in multiple vehicle fires is discussed with reference to the Channel Tunnel fires. It is observed that the primary difference between the 2006 fire and the other two was that in the 1996 and 2008 fires, the initial fire would have experienced a reversal in airflow direction and an increase in ventilation flow after the fire was established. In the 2006 fire there was no reversal or increase in flow. It is proposed that these ventilation changes may be able to explain the differences in fire dynamics. Recommendations based on these proposals are made.

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