Fire has engulfed a famous ski area in the French Alps after an inferno broke out at 6,400 feet.
There was extensive damage to the ski lift structure and buildings at Grands Montets in the Chamonix Valley, a popular destination for British skiers and hikers.
Lift cables melted sending passenger cabins capable of carrying 60 people crashing into the mountainside.
The area had been closed to the public while maintenance work was being carried out.
The fire started just before 2pm in the Lognan building which houses store rooms, restaurants, toilets and a lift station giving people access down to the base station in the village of Argentiere or up to Grands Montets at an altitude of 10,700 feet.
Clouds of smoke billowing from the mountain were visible 20 miles away. The lift is owned by Compagnie du Mont Blanc. Its president, Mathieu Dechavanne, described the fire as ‘a big, big disaster’.
‘An external society was doing work for us in the buildings,’ he said. ‘A fire broke out under the roof at the Lognan building at an altitude of 2000 metres altitude.
‘The fire took hold quickly and progressed into the lift building. No one has been injured which is the good news. It’s a big, big disaster.’
He said repairs would last ‘many months’ and it would be necessary to change the load-bearing cables and replace the cable cars that were affected by the flames.
A helicopter from the gendarmerie was mobilised, as well as a private helicopter chartered by the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc to dump water on the fire.
All workers on the site were evacuated and also staff in the base station and residents of houses near the lift cables. The Grands Montets lifts transport 600,000 passengers a year.
The fire marks the second lift-related incident in Chamonix this year. The Aiguille du Midi cable car was shut down in July after a defective cable was discovered. Ends