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Tunnel fire under control as AquaGib plant is disconnected for safety reasons

The road between Sandy Bay and Europa Point remained closed again on Thursday as firefighters continued to battle a blaze in a tunnel on the east side. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

The tunnel fire continues to burn but is now under control, the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service said on Thursday afternoon, as parts of Gibraltar were left without potable water after power supply to AquaGib’s reverse osmosis plant was disconnected as a safety precaution.

The Gibraltar Government said the plant, which is located near the affected tunnel, is expected to return to normal operations once the fire is extinguished.

“The Government is actively working with GFRS, AquaGib and GibElec to explore every possible contingency in the unlikely event that this not possible,” a spokesperson for No.6 Convent Place said.

“A second AquaGib plant remains fully operational.”

GFRS crews remain at the scene but efforts to extinguish the fire continue to be hindered by extremely dangerous conditions inside the tunnel.

Firefighters managed to extinguish the fire in Vault 3 of the tunnel on Wednesday but items stored in the adjacent Vault 4 remain alight, although the fire appears to be contained there.

Firefighters had overnight been tackling Vault 4 directly but were forced to pull back because of safety concerns.

“Overnight there was substantial roof collapse within the tunnel, with a very near miss to a firefighter,” the GFRS said in a statement on Thursday morning.

“The GFRS are currently using unmanned equipment to monitor the fire in Vault 4 and assess the extent of the damage caused by the collapse.”

“The debris from the collapse and extremely poor visibility in this regard is significantly hampering progress in the GFRS’ investigation efforts.”

“The GFRS is currently working with AquaGib and Gibelec to determine the extent of damage caused by the collapse to their infrastructure within the tunnel and a further statement will be issued as soon as this developing situation allows.”

There is no confirmation as yet as to how the fire started and police said it was too soon to comment while the GFRS was still tackling the blaze.

The was no confirmation either as to what exactly was alight, although it is believed the fire in Vault 4 may be centred on rubber tiling used to protect the ground for large stadium events such as the music festival, and which was being stored there.

“GFRS firefighters have been working through the night and have successfully brought the fire within Vault 4 under control, having extinguished the fire in Vault 3 late yesterday afternoon,” said Colin Ramirez, the Chief Fire Officer.

“However, significant roof collapse within the tunnel means that progress is very slow and there may be damage to infrastructure within.”

“The GFRS is working hand in hand with AquaGib and Gibelec to determine whether there is any damage and the extent of it, but the conditions mean that progress is likely to be very slow.”

“As the focus of the operation begins to move from firefighting to investigation I’d like to reiterate my thanks to the fire crews for their professionalism and bravery in working in these conditions.”

The Gibraltar Government is expected to make a statement to update on the latest developments later this evening.

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