Boom! Boom! Boom!
Flaming big rig sends acetylene canisters exploding into the sky
Interstate 55 was temporarily shutdown Friday morning after a series of explosions in the dark morning hours near AFCO Road created quite a spectacle.
A fire, started when the back brakes on a tractortrailer overheated sparking explosions from acetylene bottles on the truck, lit up the early morning skies.
The West Memphis Fire Department responded to calls at northbound mile marker 8 after the call came in a few minutes just before 6 a.m.. West Memphis Fire Department Battalion Chief Vince Richardson was first on the scene Friday.
“He immediately saw explosions and tanks flying through the air,” said WMFD Chief Wayne Gately. “Company 3 got there and first had to get the fire knocked down so they could stop the explosions. We were in a lot of harm’s way to get the fire out.”
No injuries were reported in connection with the inci- dent. Authorities said the tanks were three-to-four feet tall and about 10 inches around.
“There were several hundred on the trailer,” said Gately. “The ones on the back were the ones we had problems with.”
Lanes were closed in both directions as the West Memphis Fire Department provided and all-out response including its Hazardous Materials Team.
Responding trucks lined the Service Road.
According to the chief, the driver saw the brakes blazing, and pulled over to use the on-board fire extinguisher. When he exhausted the extinguisher, he called emergency dispatch.
Neighbors awakened by the explosions and rattling house windows that their rocked adjacent mobile homes in Lakeshore Trailer Park also lit up the call center. In the meantime, the driver unhitched and moved the tractor away from the trailer as it became involved. Gately said the driver responded well in the explosive situation.
“The driver tried to put it out with the fire extinguisher he carries on his truck,” said Gately. “It was too much fire. He called for help and then unhitched because he knew everything was about to go flying . He did all he could do. He did everything in his power.
The main thing is, he called us when he did so we could get there and make it safe again.”
Later in the morning, the chief reported that 30 to 40 of the Acetylene 2.5 canisters exploded, sending shrapnel and gas cylinders into the air, scattering debris across the Interstate and a bean field near the scene. All the canisters had acetylene in them.
“One tank flew away from the trailer at least 200 feet away landing in the median,” said Gately. “Civilians continued driving by before the Interstate was shut down and as the explosions were still happening, not realizing the danger
they were putting themselves in.”
Arkansas Highway Police and State Police were on scene throughout the morning.
Acetylene is used by welders for cutting torch and is the hottest of all gas flames. It becomes explosive and burns when exposed to oxygen. The 2.5-percent mixture one the trailer was hauling is toward the lower flammable limit with upper limits as
rich as 81 percent.
By John Rech