AUBURN, Ala.- Highway 280 is back to normal after a fire Tuesday afternoon.
The Auburn Fire Division received a call just before 3:30 in the afternoon of an 18-wheeler on fire with the driver trapped inside. Units arrived less than 10 minutes later.
The driver, who made it out unharmed, said while she was driving, she noticed the truck was not driving as it usually did. When she looked out her window, she saw flames and smoke on the passenger side. She pulled the vehicle over and tried to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher she had in the truck. When the fire would not go out, she backed away and called authorities. Soon after, there was an explosion from an unknown cause. The Auburn Fire Division believes a tire caught on fire causing the fuel tank to explode.
The explosion caused a tire to blow off ran blow across the highway, causing a significant brushfire in the westbound lane in the area of three to five acres worth of damage.
Deputy Chief Jordan said they were very fortunate that the driver and other motorists were not injured. Upon their arrival, other resources were called in due to spreading fire.
“There was a wind coming from the south moving north pushing the fire into a woodline on the west side of Highway 280,” Deputy Chief Jordan said. “We knew that if it got into the woodline, there could be a potential from the dry conditions that it could get to some residences that were close to the roadway there.”
Resources from Opelika, Farmville, the State Forestry Commission and others came to the aid.
The City of Opelika brought in a bulldozer to cut a fire line. It was cut into the woodline in the event the fire extended so it would not affect the residences.
The trailer was carrying fruit, and Deputy Chief Jordan said the cargo could smolder for a significant time, and the fire could have been worse if the cargo was different. Deputy Chief Jordan added that Tuesday’s accident shows why the burn ban is in place and why it needs to be observed. He added that department supports the ban, and a fire like Tuesday’s can get out of control quickly and cause the need for many resources.
He added that regrowth along the road can be expected sometime in the spring, and a steady cycle of rain could begin the return normalcy.
When asked about what folks should do if they encounter a situation like Tuesday’s fire, Deputy Chief Jordan said that if people see smoke and fire that they should not drive through it and to stop and avoid it. He added that if you are stuck in it, do not get out of your vehicle unless the need arises to get away from smoke or fire.
The roadway was shutdown for a period of time. Both Deputy Chief Jordan and Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones appreciated the patience of motorists on the road while the event was being tended to.
“I know for myself, and I’m pretty sure I can speak for the other authorities and responders, we don’t want to have that roadway shut down any longer than anybody else does,” Sheriff Jones said. “It is our number one goal to protect the public, number two, restore traffic flow as quickly as possible but in a safe manner.”