Turned-over tanker closes Hwy. 50
Results in fiery crash, though no contamination of waterways
Originally published 2013-05-23
A semi-truck carrying 7,000 gallons of gasoline crashed west of Blue Mesa Reservoir early Wednesday morning, resulting in a fiery display and closure of Hwy. 50 in both directions.
The eastbound truck, operated by Groendyke Transport, was reported to be en route to the pumps at the City Market store in Gunnison, when the driver failed to negotiate a turn near mile marker 124, said Colorado State Patrol (CSP) spokesman Nate Reid. The vehicle rolled one-quarter turn, landing on its driver’s side before its highly combustible payload sent the truck up in flames.
Authorities were notified of the crash about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Reid said the truck was driven by Russell Rice, 43, of Montrose. Both Rice and an unnamed passenger were reported to have sustained minor injuries during the accident, and the passenger was transported to Gunnison for further medical attention, said Reid.
Gunnison Fire Marshal Dennis Spritzer explained that the site of the crash was in Little Blue Canyon about a mile east of Alpine Plateau Road.
The accident ignited wildland fires on both sides of the highway.
“This thing did explode — a vapor explosion,” said Spritzer.
Wednesday morning, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials were working to contain a fire on the south side of Hwy. 50 that had grown to approximately 2 acres in size, said Spritzer.
However, none of the fuel from the tanker spilled into nearby waterways.
“It all burned,” Spritzer said. “That’s part of the way we’re trained. When we get a tanker truck like this, we don’t have enough water in these remote locations to do any good. If you do happen to put it out, you’ve created a very severe environmental hazard as a result of that.”
Numerous agencies were involved in responding to the accident and fire, including Gunnison Fire and HAZMAT, CSP and its HAZMAT team, the National Parks Service, Forest Service, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Montrose Fire.
Gunnison County Undersheriff Randy Barnes opened the Emergency Operations Center, but due to the time of the incident and a resulting low call volume for dispatch, the center’s support was largely unneeded, he indicated.
“Last night it was a non-event for EOC,” Barnes said. “We sat here and listened to the radio and made suggestions.”
CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said early Wednesday that CSP officials were working to clean up the crash site. She said it’s likely that because of the fire, CDOT will need to repair the roadway.
Ironically, the site of the crash is about two miles east of a resurfacing and improvement project CDOT has begun that’s expected to span into the fall. The project aims to straighten curves and flatten hills to improve motorist safety.
By mid-day Wednesday, CDOT officials reported that Hwy. 50 was again open to one-lane, alternating traffic from both directions.
CSP spokesman Reid indicated that Rice, the driver of the tanker, was cited for careless driving and not having proof of insurance.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)