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Sopranos actor kicks off Nepal fire truck expedition

© AFP | US actor Michael Imperioli, star of TV series "The Sopranos", talks with AFP during an interview at the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu

KATHMANDU (AFP) - 

Sopranos star Michael Imperioli kicked off an expedition Monday that will see a motley crew of celebrities drive 10 fire trucks on Nepal's hair-raising roads for charity.

Imperioli and around two dozen other celebrities -- including actor Malcolm McDowell and British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes -- will drive 480 kilometres (300 miles) from the India-Nepal border in November to the capital where the trucks will be donated to Kathmandu's fire brigade.

"I got involved in the project first of all because I just think it's a great idea. I think it's going to save lives and save properties and bring benefit to a lot of people," Imperioli told AFP.

The Emmy Award-winning actor was joined at Kathmandu's Boudhanath Stupa on Monday by Nepali Bollywood star Sunil Thapa and one of the donated fire engines.

The truck -- gifted by the Japanese government -- was driven about the revered Buddhist sight as worshippers made their early morning offerings at the stupa.

The fire department in earthquake-prone Kathmandu -- a city of 2.5 million -- is poorly equiped with just three functioning fire engines.

"Every day we are facing problems regarding the fire and rescue services because we don't have new fire trucks and we don't have adequate equipment," said Kathmandu fire chief Kishor Kumar Bhattarai.

Six fire engines, one ladder truck, two front-loader tractors and a fire command vehicle, mostly donated by fire departments in the United States, will be commandeered by the celebrities for the charity drive.

The project is the brainchild of German watchmaker and two-time Everest summiteer Michael Kobold, who initially planned to drive one fire engine over the Himalayas with Sopranos actor James Gandolfini.

Gandolfini died in 2013 and a devastating earthquake hit Nepal two years later, forcing Kobold to delay the project.

"James Gandolfini passed away and then the earthquake struck in 2015 and that's when all of my friends said we're going to come with you and deliver this fire truck," Kobold said.

"Then we had too many people for one fire truck so we just kept getting more fire trucks."

Kobold hopes the initiative will spur further donations to bolster Nepal's fire departments.

The impoverished Himalayan country has a poor fire safety record with many buildings falling short of basic fire safety standards.

Nepal is also occasionally hit by devastating wildfires, mostly in the lowlands that border India.

© 2017 AFP