There were seemingly horrific scenes in the Hindhead Tunnel early this week as emergency services dealt with the aftermath of a multi-vehicle crash.

Fire and smoke engulfed the tunnel while 20 people were rescued, extricated or triaged in testing conditions designed to push emergency services to the limit.

But no-one was hurt, and it wasn’t reported because it was all part of a planned exercise to test the response in the event of a real-life tragedy in the tunnel.

Firefighters from Liphook, Grayshott, Bordon and Alton were among the on-call crews who took part in the multi-agency exercise organised by National Highways.

The exercise on Tuesday night (March 19) was held to test planning and operational emergency response to a “significant and challenging scenario” within the tunnel, which is part of the A3.

A “substantial road traffic collision” involving multiple vehicles and fire was created, with 20 casualties needing varying degrees of treatment and rescue.

Steve Jenkins, Hampshire & IoW Fire & Rescue station manager for the Portsmouth, Havant & East Hampshire Group, arranged the local response from firefighters.

“The opportunity to realistically train and exercise in this environment and with these committed resources is to beneficial to all,” said Mr Jenkins before thanking the organisers and attendees for their part.

Group Manager, Paul Riddell, hailed the “fantastic commitment” of everyone involved in the operation, which led to the overnight closure of the tunnel.

He said: “It’s unusual to exercise into the early hours, but the opportunity to participate in such a realistic scenario and environment allows us with our other responding agencies and colleagues to test, learn and prepare.”

The exercise, which started at 10.30pm and finished at 2.30am, also involved figures from National Highways, Surrey Fire & Rescue Service, South East Coast Ambulance Service, HART and Surrey Police.