Incredible documentary of a train fire in a tunnel killed 155 people, skiing in Austria.

1 killed, 80 sickened when a DC Metro train stalled in a tunnel filled w/smoke.

Tunnel fires may not be daily occurrences, but they often happen. Below are some notable tunnel fires involving trains, trucks and cars that can help better prepare firemen when responding to these difficult incidents by learning from past events.

Car fire in the Wilcox Tunnel - Chattanooga, TN.

Excellent documentary on the Mont Blanc tunnel fire that killed 38 people.

This video is an animation of how the Howard Street tunnel fire and train derailment was caused.

The Howard Street tunnel chemical fire in Baltimore was caused by a 60 car CSX train derailment inside the tunnel and burned for 5 days.

A bus caught fire in the Ft. McHenry tunnel in Baltimore producing thick black smoke. Exhaust fans in action (video).

Interesting video on the future of high-tech tunnel safety.

11 killed in tunnel fire. See how it happened and how the exhaust fans played a role.

2015: Smoke from an arcing third rail electrical fire filled the DC Metro tunnel with smoke killing 1 and sickening 80 people. A Virginia-bound yellow line train inside the tunnel stopped for UNKNOWN reasons and started filling up with smoke trapping panicking passengers.



2003: Subway train in South Korea was set on fire with gasoline while inside the tunnel killing 200 people.CLICK HERE for story.

This is a VIDEO of the East River Mountain Tunnel in West Virginia. A tractor trailer was fully engulfed inside the tube creating a traffic nightmare for several days while structural engineers inspected the damage caused by the fire. A car fire a few months later in the same tube sent the driver to the hospital with smoke inhalation. This tunnel will have to be accessed from the exit side or the opposite side of the tunnel which happens to be on the Virginia side, another state jurisdiction. Will radio communication be an issue? What about the ICS?

Watch the VIDEOS above to see how people react when smoke starts coming towards them in a tunnel.


Fires in tunnels (including subways) can lead to the rapid spread of toxic smoke in just minutes creating difficult dangerous conditions and causing  panic for the unfortunate travelers inside. Many people stuck in a tube full of smoke will likely try to outrun the toxic smoke coming towards them. Others may simply remain in their vehicles or try to find shelter. With smoke containing asphyxiants like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, irritants such as ammonia, hydrogen chloride, particulates, nitrogen oxides, phenol, sulfur dioxide, and carcinogens such as asbestos, benzene, styrene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, be prepared for those failing to escape the tube. Those trying to outrun the smoke may collapse while others may succumb just sitting in a stalled vehicle or train car waiting for help. During large scale fires, hazardous material releases or explosions, travelers will not be familiar with the tunnel and in poor visibility may not see the emergency exits, shelter areas or they may be running with the wind in the same direction as the exhaust fans. Many tunnels and transit systems have exhaust systems to remove smoke and draw fresh air into the tunnel/station to keep egress routes clear. Unfortunately they are not always effective or working properly.

Fires in tunnels usually involve cars, trucks or trains. They are high risk low frequency events and can be a complete cluster you-know-what if not prepared as there will be plenty of panic, confusion and gridlock from the unfortunate travelers stuck in the tunnel. 

Some concerns for the first arriving company officers: 

*Rescue of trapped occupants in the burning vehicle in addition to people fleeing from their vehicles who may be disoriented or overcome by smoke/carbon monoxide. This is the fire departments number one priority.

*Access for the fire department is critical. Be 100% sure before committing any apparatus inside of a tunnel. Use extreme caution when approaching the tube from the opposing direction of travel. Driving into the face of the exhaust fan direction can stall the apparatus and have deadly consequences. Walking long distances through the tube will create problems with SCBA air supply.

*Vehicles attempting to back out of the tunnel will have them running over supply/hand lines/appliances and first responders. 

*Visibility problems from the thick black smoke with nowhere to go.

*Delayed application of water and water supply. Access to the tunnel, traffic, determining the location of the fire, hooking up to dry standpipes, long hose stretches and supply lines from a long distance hydrant will add to your reflex time.

*Secondary vehicle collisions as smoke fills the tube causing poor visibility and chain reaction rear-end collisions.

*People exiting their vehicles and attempting to flee the tunnel in a panic.

*Vehicles carrying hazardous materials are common. Assume and expect hazmats in the tunnel and wear your SCBA!

On arrival, ask yourself:

*Do you have apparatus coming from the opposite direction? Are additional resources on the way? This may be dispatched as a vehicle fire on the interstate with no additional information which only requires a single engine response. The engine then arrives on scene to thick black smoke pouring from the tunnel. If possible, determine if it's a car, truck, trailer, RV etc...

*Is their an automatic or manual exhaust system in the tunnel or a remote location? If NOT, will PPV fans be enough to push the smoke out the other end if wind direction isn't a factor? Many tunnels are monitored by CCTV and sensors.

*Do you have access to the proper lane? Should you even consider bringing the apparatus into the tunnel?

*Have the police been requested to stop traffic from entering the tunnel in BOTH directions? Has the Department of Transportation/Roads or other representatives for the tunnel jurisdiction been notified?

*Are there any FDC locations and standpipes in the tunnel? Where are they located? Where are the CROSSOVER hallway doors? Where's the closest hydrant? Fire preplans will answer these questions. (Rural departments have tankers)

*Are there chain reaction collisions caused by the visibility problems in tunnel requiring a large response from heavy Rescue/Squad companies, BLS & ALS?

RESCUE PLAN: In addition to the above considerations, the IC/Company Officer will need a rescue plan. Are the fans/exhaust/ventilation systems inside the tunnel/tube working properly and clearing smoke by drawing it upward or is it pushing the smoke horizontally in the direction of fleeing passengers? People running towards the exit may be close, but they are not out yet and can still be easily overcome by toxic smoke. If the fire is not that deep into the tunnel, is it better to just extinguish the fire, stop traffic and let the exhaust fans do their job (if operating correctly). If the fans are pushing in the wrong direction, NOTIFY the Incident Commander immediately.

Fire departments should have SOP's/SOG's for tunnel response.