Above ground, the fire would have been minor. Breaking out deep below the English Channel, it stranded thousands of travelers, imperiled millions of dollars in trade and starkly demonstrated the importance – and fragility – of Britain's land link to Europe.
The Channel Tunnel remained closed Friday after a fire that started on a truck being carried on a train to France. Firefighters battled through the night trying to quell a blaze that caused temperatures to soar above 1,800 degrees.
“This is going to cost the industry millions,” said Kate Gibbs at the Road Haulage Association.
As she spoke, hundreds of trucks loaded with everything from fruit to furniture sat along a stretch of highway that has become a virtual parking lot on the English side of the tunnel.
At London's St. Pancras station, passengers expecting to be whisked to Paris in a little over two hours were being told no trains would run until today at the earliest. Almost 30,000 people had been due to take trains on Friday.
A marvel of engineering, the “Chunnel” is actually three – two one-way rail tunnels with a smaller service tunnel running between them. The fire was in the England-to-France section, and operator Eurotunnel said it hoped to reopen the undamaged France-to-England tunnel as soon as overnight.
The tunnel has had a few fires in the past, including one in 1996 that disrupted freight traffic for months.