Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen was himself only a few kilometers away from the Fjærlands Tunnel in Western Norway Monday night when a maintenance truck that was cleaning its interior burst into flames. Solvik-Olsen admitted that the resulting fire inside the tunnel “reminds us how vulnerable we are,” but he insisted the government was taking tunnel safety seriously.
“Even though this was a situation where professionals were already in place, since the truck was run by a maintenance crew, it shows how quickly things can develop,” Solvik-Olsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday morning. “Folks have landed in the hospital, that also shows how serious this can be.”
Norway is a county full of tunnels that provide important means of transportation through mountains and under fjords. During the past few years, however, there have been several serious fires inside the tunnels caused by vehicles. It remained unclear what caused the fire in the truck that was washing the inside of the tunnel that runs between Fjærland and Jølster on State Highway 5, but it resulted in smoke-inhalation injuries to 13 people who were inside the tunnel. All were being treated at the hospital in nearby Forde.
Solvik-Olsen is currently making the rounds of all the airports in Norway, and was on his way to the small airport in Sandane when the fire broke out inside the Fjærlands Tunnel around a kilometer from its entrance on the Jøster end. NRK reported that the driver of the maintenance vehicle jumped out of the burning truck, a Scania R 580 model from 2015, and ran towards the entrance. “The fire developed fast, so the most important thing was to get away,” Eyvind Brynildsen, manager of the company owning the truck, told NRK. “The truck had some of the most modern equipment and was almost new,” he added. He declined to speculate on what might have caused the fire.
The tunnel is 6.3 kilometers long and local police said the few cars driving through the tunnel at the time were escorted out in a convoy led by another vehicle tied to the cleaning crew. Firefighting crews arrived from both Jølster and Sogn to extinguish the blaze that gutted the truck’s front end.
Solvik-Olsen said the fire points up the need for an ongoing program of tunnel upgrades nationwide, many of which are underway to satisfy EU requirements. “We’re working hard to make sure that tunnel are upgraded,” the transport minister claimed, noting that the work is costing NOK 2.5 billion this year alone. “This is a program where we’ve quadrupled (budgets) because the work is so important.”