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With fire under control, focus turns to investigation and lessons

Press briefing at No6 Convent Place. Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

As the tunnel fire comes under control, officials have looked towards its cause and looking to learn lessons in future to avoid another blaze of this nature.

Inside Gibraltar's tunnel system, vaults with Government property, including recycling bins, plastic flooring and confiscated vehicles, caught fire.

But the possibility of someone entering the tunnel via Dobinson's Way was put into question.

Members of the press were briefed inside the bunker at No.6 Convent Place by Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, the Minister for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento, Chief Fire Officer Colin Ramirez, and Head of Civil Contingencies Ivor Lopez.

Mr Ramirez said operations continue to be scaled down as the fire is suppressed, with fire fighters taking on a "defensive approach.”

He added that fighting the blaze makes for "slow progress" as fire firefighters are tackling "extreme" heat, fatigue and no visibility, and the team is supporting the wider effort within the tunnel.

Once the fire is put out and the tunnel deemed safe for entry, a police and fire service investigation to analyse the cause will be taking place, Dr Garcia confirmed to journalists.

"The Royal Gibraltar Police told us this morning, in the meeting, that once the fire has been completely damped out and there’s no smouldering, etc. there will be a fire service and police investigation and that they will declare it a crime scene," Dr Garcia said.

He described that there may be persons of interest in the case.

When pressed on security concerns, Dr Garcia said the tunnel system was gated at two ends, there were alarms and cameras, and entrance to the AquaGib plant was gated and locked.

"It's not a common or popular tunnel that people go through, people only went there if they were depositing the stores and it happened," Dr Garcia said.

"We'll be in a position to learn lessons from this, I'm sure, going forward."

Dr Garcia said the Government had no information that this was a "weak point," reiterating the area was secure and protected.

"That's one of the areas which I am sure is going to be investigated," he said.

Mr Ramirez added they are "reluctant to assume" when a safe investigation can take place.

"The structure is so unstable that, even when we close the incident from a fire perspective, it would still have to be rendered safe prior to anyone being granted access," he said.

He said the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service is working with the RGP to see how an investigation could develop.
"If you're looking at a worst-case scenario, this probably goes beyond that," Mr Ramirez said.

"You try to prepare for something like this, but you cannot replicate these conditions in training. They are experiences that any fire fighter, maybe, would have never encountered previously. So extremely challenging."

He added that emergency water supplies for fire fighters have not been affected.

Fire fighters extinguished the fire in Vault 3 of the tunnel on Wednesday with the fire contained in Vault 4 but were forced to pull back because of safety concerns.

Dramatic images from inside the tunnel have shown the tough conditions fire fighters have dealt with for days.

The road between Sandy Bay and Europa Point has been closed to the public since Tuesday and will remain closed for now.

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