Greatest Underground Fire in History
The quality of 19th century civil engineering is attested by so many of the structures we see throughout Britain, and sometimes take for granted: the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait ; the Clifton Suspension Bridge ; the Forth Bridge . But in December 1984 it was the quality of something generally unseen, the Summit Railway Tunnel between Todmorden in Yorkshire and Littleborough in Lancashire , which proved astounding.
Just before 6am on December 20 a train pulling 13 tankers of petrol from Teesside to Warrington was passing through the Summit Tunnel when a faulty axle on the fourth tanker caused it to derail. Leaking petrol fumes ignited, and the greatest underground fire in history began – though not one fatality was caused by it. Over the next four days nearly a million litres of petrol burned, the temperature in the tunnel reaching an estimated 8000 Celsius.
The ventilation shafts acted as flame vents, at the peak of the blaze these flames reaching nearly 50m into the sky. But the Summit, one of the first railway tunnels, built by the great George Stephenson , survived with just some of the bricks melted at the seat of the blaze. It reopened in the summer of 1985.
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