Motorists line up on U.S. 395 Thursday afternoon as Caltrans closed the highway due to a vehicle fire caused by hazardous materials and high winds creating a visibility concern. A detour was available for most of the day, but a brush fire resulting from the vehicle fire prompted the closure of the detour for a short time, causing a back-up on the highway. Photo by Aime Banta
A big-rig collision south of Division Creek on U.S. 395 early Thursday morning resulted in a hazardous materials spill and fire that burned through much of the day, resulting in the closure of U.S. 395.
The wild fire that resulted from the collision was initially doused by fire crews shortly after the crash, but reignited later in the afternoon and began to grow at a high rate of speed due to severe winds.
Fire crews feared for the safety of the community of Aberdeen, between Independence and Division Creek.
The ordeal began shortly before 4:30 a.m. when, according to the California Highway Patrol, Heinar Carrilloromero, 37, of Los Angeles, pulled into the number two lane of southbound traffic from the Division Creek rest site as Andrew Durham, 49, of Hesperia, was traveling southbound in the number two lane just north of the rest area.
â€śFor reasons unknown at this time, Mr. Durham did not observe Mr. Corrilloromeroâ€™s vehicle, and Mr. Durhamâ€™s vehicle struck the rear of Mr. Corrilloromeroâ€™s vehicle,â€ť the CHP said.
Following the collision, Durhamâ€™s tractor-trailer caught fire. Durham was able to free himself from the rig with only minor injuries, and was transported to Northern Inyo Hospital in Bishop.
Durham was hauling household cleaning materials and paint, creating a hazardous smoke problem that the CHP said sent â€śseveral first respondersâ€ť to the hospital.
Caltrans closed U.S. 395 to through traffic shortly after the crash to allow firefighters to handle the hazardous materials blaze.
According to CalFire Captain Rich Burning, due to the volatile nature of the fire, crews decided to allow it to burn off before mopping up.
Caltrans identified and opened a detour to allow traffic to bypass the fire at 6 a.m. The bypass was closed at about 2:30 p.m. as the truck fire spread to the center median of the divided highway, and began to spread east of U.S. 395.
Burning said CalFire had five hand crews and one engine assigned to the fire, but, due to high winds blowing from the north, the agency requested stand-by support from local volunteer fire departments in case the blaze spread.
â€śIt was a small, 50 by 50 (foot) fire, about a quarter of an acre, but there were high winds, and between Blackrock and Independence, there was zero visibility for a while,â€ť Burning said.
Crews feared that, should the brush fire get out of control, winds would drive it towards the community of Aberdeen or the Blackrock Fish Hatchery.
CalFire crews were able to beat the fire down, and by 4 p.m. Caltrans re-established the detour, allowing traffic to travel up and down the valley.
By 5 p.m., both the toxic truck fire and brush fire were extinguished and Caltrans opened U.S. 395 to through traffic at 11 p.m.