Fuel tank ruptures, catches fire when semi crashes on I-15

WASHINGTON CITY — A loaded semitractor-trailer hauling eggs caught fire on Interstate 15 Sunday morning after one of the fuel tanks ruptured when the truck struck the guardrail.

Firefighters respond to a semitractor-trailer fire on Interstate 15 southbound near mile marker 15, Washington City, Utah, Oct. 20, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., emergency personnel were dispatched to southbound I-15 just south of Exit 16 on a reported single-vehicle crash and semi fire.

Officers and crews arrived to find the semitractor smashed into the concrete barrier with flames coming from underneath the cab near the front axle of the trailer closest to the barrier. The driver was able to exit the semi safely on his own and was checked by fire department personnel for smoke inhalation but was otherwise uninjured.

Officers diverted traffic into one of the newly-completed lanes near the median of I-15 that are not yet regularly for travel, which allowed for traffic to keep moving, Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Joe Pastor told St. George News.

Meanwhile, firefighters began to tackle the blaze burning in the ruptured fuel tank, a battle that continued for more than 40 minutes. Crews used fire retardant foam that was brought in to not only battle the fire but to cool down the tanks.

At the time of the crash, the driver was heading south and struck the end of guardrail before continuing another 150-200 feet until the front of the cab became wedged into the concrete barrier, preventing it from going any farther.

Guardrai, or crash attenuator, is extensively damaged in semitractor-trailer crash on Interstate 15 southbound near mile marker 15, Washington City, Utah, Oct. 20, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The fuel tank on the passenger’s side ruptured and caught fire, which continued to burn as both tanks and the surrounding area began to heat up. The ruptured fuel tank was resting against the barrier, making fire suppression efforts difficult with limited access to the fire’s origin.

Authorities were still investigating the crash and did not yet have all the details as to what happened, but Pastor said one primary factor in the crash appears to be some type of distraction on the part of the driver.

“At this point, it appears the driver was not totally focused on the road when this happened,” Pastor said,

Pastor added those are preliminary findings as investigators are still obtaining driver logs and other information.

A large wrecker arrived and pulled the semitractor off of the wall before removing it from the roadway.

Sunday’s crash took place in a section of the interstate that was newly constructed, so repairs are going to be costly, according to a Utah Department of Transportation official at the scene.

$30,000 of safety equipment was destroyed or damaged. The equipment was brand-new and included the crash attenuator, a guardrail-like barrier that is designed to absorb a colliding vehicle’s kinetic energy and slow it down. The concrete barriers, which are cast-in-place walls reinforced with rebar to prevent a truck or vehicle from crashing through them, also sustained severe damage and a number of sections will have to be replaced altogether. In addition, the newly-resurfaced roadway sustained damage not only from the crash but from the leaking diesel that can soak into asphalt and damage it.

The safety equipment performed well Sunday, the UDOT official said, as it allowed the truck to slow to a stop and prevented it from going off the road or rolling over.

A commercial vehicle inspector with UHP was also called out for the investigation that is ongoing at this time.

The Utah Highway Patrol, Washington City Fire and Police Departments, Hurricane Valley Fire District and the Utah Department of Transportation’s Incident Management Team responded to the scene.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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