I-10 MESS: Man, woman escaped burning rig after hitting median

Posted: Updated:
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: Arizona Department of Transportation) (Source: Arizona Department of Transportation)
Firefighters had to cut a hole in a fence to access a fire hydrant. (Source: Phoenix Fire Department) Firefighters had to cut a hole in a fence to access a fire hydrant. (Source: Phoenix Fire Department)
Employees at a nearby business saw a flaming tire roll away from the burning semi. (Source: I-10 Premier Auto Sales) Employees at a nearby business saw a flaming tire roll away from the burning semi. (Source: I-10 Premier Auto Sales)

A semi caught fire on Interstate 10 Friday morning, forcing the Arizona Department of Transportation to close the westbound lanes for a time and restrict the eastbound side.

According to Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr, the driver of the rig was going west when he lost control and hit the concrete median barrier at about 9:45 a.m. 

"The cab of the truck went over the barrier into the eastbound lanes, and the trailer remained on the westbound side," Mehr explained. "The vehicle caught fire, which fully engulfed it. At the time of the collision, the trailer was empty."

[SLIDESHOW: Semi slams into median wall on I-10, bursts into flames]

At this point, DPS believes the brakes locked as the driver was trying to slow down in the HOV lane. The truck jack-knifed and went up onto the wall.

DPS said truck skidded along the median -- "rode the median wall," according to DPS Trooper Kameron Lee -- for several hundred feet until it hit the structure for the overhead sign.

The flames scorched that sign; the thick black smoke from the fire was visible for miles.

The man and the woman who were in the truck escaped unharmed.

Employees at a nearby business, I-10 Premiere Auto Sales, recorded video of the fire. They said they heard a loud screeching sound and then saw a flaming tire rolling toward the fence.

[CELL PHONE VIDEO: Flaming tire rolls from semi burning on I-10]

"The tires caught on fire from skidding," said Eric Morales, a former EMT and firefighter who jumped the fence to check on the driver. "There was like 50 feet of flames from the tires, and then the cab just completely turned the opposite way. ... Fortunately, the man and woman that were in the semi truck were already out. They were standing right next to me, just in shock -- not talking. 

"It was horrifying because I thought they were inside," he explained.

Firefighters were able to get control of the fire relatively quickly, but they had to overcome one big issue first.

"Now anytime we have something like this on the freeway system, water supply is always a challenge unlike in our neighborhoods where we have fire hydrants every so often [that we can easily access], Capt. Jake Van Hook of the Phoenix Fire Department explained. "Out on the freeway, it's a little more challenging. In this particular situation, we were very fortunate to have this hydrant here .... Our crews, as you see, were able to cut the fence and get a supply line to their trucks so they had an adequate water supply ."

Shortly before 10:30 a.m., the westbound side is backed up all the way to Elliot Road. Eastbound is backed up to the I-10/I-17 split.

[AERIAL VIDEO: Semi catches fire after crashing into median wall on I-10 in Phoenix]

The westbound side of the freeway was closed for a time.

"Traffic is being diverted onto northbound SR 143, where drivers can return to I-10 westbound via Loop 202 Red Mountain westbound," according to ADOT.

That side of the freeway partially reopened just before 11 a.m., more than an hour after the initial crash and subsequent fire. Restrictions were expected to remain in place throughout the afternoon, but all lanes were open by about 2 p.m.

Despite that, ADOT was still advising people to be patient due to heavy traffic in the area.

The eastbound lanes were restricted for nearly two hours.

With major delays expected throughout the course of the incident, ADOT had a bit of advice for drivers.

"Exit well ahead of the area and plan to use an alternate route," the agency tweeted.

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