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BURNED-OUT TUNNEL MAY OPEN BY MONDAY, FIRE OFFICIALS SAY

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Transportation and fire officials who inspected several hundred feet of burned-out Metro Rail tunnel Saturday said damaged supports underneath the Hollywood Freeway must be shored up before it can reopen.

But the freeway could open as early as Monday if the width of the tunnel underneath the freeway is reinforced with metal and wood supports by then, officials said."There is really no damage to the freeway roadbed. The damage is in the tunnel," Caltrans spokesman Steve Leung said. "The danger is because of the supports that burned off."

Leung said reinforcements were needed because of the possibility that the tunnel under the freeway "could cave in" under the weight of freeway traffic.

The fire, which began early Friday, continued burning a 200-foot section of the tunnel more than 36 hours later. Fire in the northern section of the 750-foot tunnel, including the portion underneath the freeway, was extinguished Friday evening.

The southern portion of the tunnel remained too hot Saturday for firefighters to enter, Deputy Fire Chief Ray Rojo said.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, Rojo said, adding, "Nothing we have right now leads us to believe that it was an arson fire."

About 35 firefighters remained outside the still smoldering cave where a 200-foot stretch of tunnel just south of the freeway collapsed Friday.

Air quality tests performed overnight at both ends of the tunnel determined that there was no public health risk from the slightly toxic fumes, which included arsenic from chemically treated timber supports, county health spokesman Jerry Munoz said.

Officials had worried that the fire and the collapsed section of the tunnel weakened the freeway's structural integrity, but Metro Rail construction chief Albert Perdon said his inspection of the tunnel Saturday showed the freeway was sound.

But a Caltrans official said traffic would not resume on the freeway until metal and timber reinforcements were installed.

An announcement on the freeway reopening would be made after a 6 p.m. Sunday conference of fire and transportation officials, Perdon said.

The tunnel itself will have to be rebuilt, Perdon said. "What we are building now is a temporary structure that will allow traffic to be returned to the freeway," he said.