Tanker wreck, fuel spill cleared; I-17 reopened

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX – A tanker carrying nearly 9,000 gallons of fuel rolled over early Friday morning, forcing the closure of Interstate 17 in both directions at Dunlap Avenue. Crews were able to finally open the northbound lanes at 8:45 a.m. The southbound lanes reopened at 10:30 a.m.

The wreck happened at about 1:20 a.m. The driver was heading north when he lost control of the truck. The tanker rolled, flipping over the median wall and into the southbound lanes. Aerial video showed the cab of the truck hanging over the wall.

The wreck created a potentially explosive situation.

Some fuel leaked from the Circle K tanker, but not as much as originally thought. It was, however, on both sides of the median. Hazardous-materials crews were able to quickly get a handle on the situation. Another tanker has been brought in and crews are transferring the fuel from the wrecked truck.

The driver suffered only minor injuries and has already been discharged from the hospital. Several witnesses stopped to help him, including an off-duty EMT and a former EMT. They had to break a window to pull the driver out of the truck.

“When we saw the fuel, that’s when we really started cranking, trying to get this gentleman outside of that cab,” said Lloyd Jaquez, one of the good Samaritans. “I got a little bit cut up, but as long as he’s OK, that makes it all worth it.”

Emergency crews spent hours working to clear the scene. It’s not a simple process. Some 8,800 gallons of fuel had to be offloaded to a second tanker. They were able to move all but about 500 gallons.

The next step was to put dyking and other measures in place to contain that remaining fuel should it spill when heavy wrecker crews flips the crippled tanker back on to its wheels. That operation alone takes at least an hour and involved at least two specialized trucks. Once the tanker was uprighted, it was towed away.

Crews then set about checking the median for safety and laying down an absorbent material to soak up the rest of the gasoline on the roadway.

"It's been a long night, but the guys have done a great job," said Capt. Scott McDonald of the Phoenix Fire Department. "Really, this incident has gone well."

This kind of wreck takes an extremely long time to clean up. When there's that much fuel involved, it's a process fraught with danger.

"You have to control the runoff. You have to control vapors," McDonald explained. "There are so many things that come into play."

I-17 was closed in both directions for more than seven hours. It has since reopened to traffic.

While crews were able to reopen the northbound lanes at 8:45 a.m., it took longer to get the southbound lanes cleared. 3TV traffic reporter Gina Maravilla said the freeway was completely open by 10:30 a.m.

It's not clear what cause the tanker driver to lose control of his rig. The  wreck is under investigation.