By CLINT FOSTER
GORDON – Ending two relatively quite days regarding fires in the county, an explosion of drama unfolded early Monday afternoon with a flaming eastbound truck on Interstate 20 near Gordon.
According to various reports, a large semi tractor/trailer, possibly hauling sod, caught fire while heading eastbound on I-20, between the 371- and 373-mile markers. Palo Pinto County Fire Marshal Buddy Harwell responded with Gordon and Strawn Volunteer Fire Departments to the truck, which pulled over on the south side of the interstate, causing a small grass fire there.
“What it looked like happened was the top of his smokestack came off and created heat up underneath where his sleeper cab area was and caught the truck on fire,” Harwell said.
While the Gordon and Strawn VFDs were busy with the burning truck, Harwell said there was also a second small grass fire about a half a mile behind the truck as well. Harwell said they are not sure what cause that blaze, but it was possibly a piece of molten metal from the truck that fell on the side of the road before the driver pulled over.
He added that the truck did not explode, but it’s tires probably did, which may have scared anyone nearby.
“A lot of times with car fires the tires will blow up and they will scare ... you the first couple of times you go on one,” he explained.
Harwell said the fires did not take long to control and the truck driver was not injured.
However, the situation got much more complicated when one driver near the scene was perhaps not paying attention and caused a four-car accident.
Texas Department of Public Safety Senior Trooper Gary M. Rozzell said three cars, including a tanker carrying xylene – a toxic, flammable substance that can cause burns if inhaled – slowed to a stop before the pile-up began.
“A semi [tanker] slows to a stop. A U-Haul stops. A minivan stops and a Dodge pickup hits the minivan and it hits the fuel cell on the tank truck and hangs on the guardrail of the trailer,” he described.
Rozzell said the wreck happened right near the grass fire that occurred behind the original buring semi, carrying sod.
“This would not have been no problem except for [the tanker carrying xylene] gas that was a fire hazard,” he said of the potential for an escalating issue.
“For 1,000 feet we backed off [traffic] and shut down both sides of I-20 until HazMat arrived,” Rozzell said. “We rerouted traffic to the north and south frontage roads. Santo EMS transported the people in the minivan to Stephenville.”
Harwell said the minivan was carrying a woman and three kids, who were taken to the hospital primarily as a precaution.
Also related to the initial and secondary wrecks, Rozzell said there was a small fender bender.
He said the wreck and closing access to the interstate took the work of “at least” all four DPS troopers on duty, as well as four deputies and Precinct 5 Constable Gary Morris.
Rozzell said Santo and Gordon EMS [as well as fire crews listed above], crews from Texas Department of Transportation and a nurse from Abilene, who was passing by, all aided the efforts.
In all, I-20 was backed up most of Monday afternoon.
Libby Cluett contributed to this article
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