The driver and a passenger of a tractor-trailer that jackknifed and caught fire on Interstate 44 in Rolla Thursday both escaped with minor injuries, according to authorities.
Chief Robert Williams, of the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue, said the fire is believed to be caused by a possible ruptured fuel tank which likely occurred when the driver, Qui B. Vu, 49, of Yorba Linda, Calif., lost control and slid into a guardrail and then the concrete median.
The accident occurred on westbound I-44 around the 185 mile marker at 11:38 a.m.
A Missouri State Highway Patrol incident report stated that the 2006 Volvo tractor-trailer unit began sliding on wet pavement, went off the right side of the interstate, struck a guardrail and then jackknifed.
The semi then returned to the road and crossed the westbound interstate lanes and slid off the left side of the road, hitting the concrete median barrier before catching fire.
Both Vu and a passenger, Hung Theu, 55, of Arcadia, Calif., were transported to Phelps County Regional Medical Center. Both reported minor injuries. Vu was wearing a seat belt, but Theu was not, the patrol report stated.
The cab was hauling a trailer with a polymer material used in plastic. Williams said the material was supposed to be heat-resistant, but instead it led to bigger flames and black smoke filling the sky above Rolla.
“They claimed it’s heat-resistant but it burned pretty readily,” the fire chief said of the material.
The truck was not carrying any hazardous materials. The tractor-trailer unit was totaled.
Williams said he has never seen anything like this in his career.
About nine firefighters with the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue responded. Eight firefighters as well as tankers with the Rolla Rural Fire Protection District provided mutual aid.
It took firefighters about 30 to 45 minutes to extiniguish the fire.
The accident caused both eastbound and westbound lanes of the interstate to be shut down for several hours for salvage and overhaul work. At times, westbound traffic was backed up to east of St. James.
Traffic was diverted from I-44 between the 186 and 184 mile markers and rerouted through Rolla.
Missouri University of Science and Technology issued a campus alert asking all students, faculty and staff on campus to stay indoors in case the wind blew smoke toward campus.
At roughly 12:35 p.m., officials lifted the alert after firefighters said they believed no hazardous materials were on board the truck.