Semi in flames causes late night closure of southbound I-15 near Toquerville exit

TOQUERVILLE — A semitractor-trailer engulfed in flames shut down southbound Interstate 15 at the Toquerville exit late Wednesday as firefighters raced to ensure the flames didn’t spread far from the wreckage into the brush.

Little was left of a semitractor-trailer that burst into flames late Wednesday alongside southbound Interstate 15 near Toquerville, Utah, Sept. 2, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The Hurricane Valley Fire Department brought down the flames, leaving very little of the semi, with just the back doors of the trailer intact. The contents of what was a refrigerated trailer that was full of food was spilled out on the ground. 

“The semi truck was fully involved when we got here as well as the cab,” Hurricane Valley Fire Battalion Chief Merlin Spendlove said, adding that the cab didn’t have a chance to detach and was also a loss. What was left was hard to discern as having once been a vehicle.

“I mean, it’s a cab. It’s still in there,” Spendlove said. 

The fire was the end of a long day for Hurricane Valley Fire, which had already battled four other brush fires Wednesday. 

Spendlove said the call for the I-15 fire came in at 9:52 p.m., and the firefighters arrived to find the trailer and its cab fully aflame on the right shoulder of the freeway. Spendlove said their first focus was to ensure the flames didn’t spread far into the brush alongside I-15. 

“The crews extinguished the surrounding area first, then turned the focus onto the trailer and truck,” Spendlove said. 

The refrigerated food contents spill out what was the refrigerated trailer of a semitractor-trailer that burst into flames late Wednesday alongside southbound Interstate 15 near Toquerville, Utah, Sept. 2, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

All lanes of the southbound 15 were closed for about two hours at the Toquerville exit. Traffic was allowed to continue on the northbound side, with vehicles cutting through the thick smoke caused by the burning truck.

This particular stretch of I-15 has seen its share of brush fires this summer, including the Cottonwood Trails Fire in July that was started by a blown tire on a car traveling south and that burned more than 3,000 acres and forced evacuations in Harrisburg, Leeds and Angel Heights. 

Spendlove said the cause of the Wednesday night fire was unclear. However, the fire started near the area of the rear tires of the vehicle. 

Spendlove said most of the major brush fires they have fought this summer – including the Anderson Junction Fire that took in May on the other side of the interstate from the site of the Wednesday night fire – were started from sparks off a vehicle. 

“When we look at all the fires, almost every one of them started by something on the freeway. And so we look at drivers if they have a trailer to make sure the chains aren’t dragging, make sure the tires are in good condition, and if you drive commercially, make sure you adjust all your brakes a little bit,” Spendlove said. “Of all the fires this year, I think we’ve had probably less than half a dozen of them naturally caused.”

By 11:40 p.m., some vehicles were being allowed to pass on southbound I-15 as fire crews continued to mop up the still-smoldering scene.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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