Sunday emergency shuts down one lane of U.S. Highway 54 for extended time for hazardous cleanup.
A burn scar beside west U.S. 54 is all that remains of a semi trailer fire that reduced traffic to one lane for almost half a day on Sunday.
Emergency vehicles were dispatched at 5:55 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 22 to west U.S. 54 between SW 130th Avenue and SW 140th Avenue that is about a mile and a half east of the Pratt/Kiowa County line.
A semi trailer with a load of 407 vehicle batteries was engulfed in flames on the north side of the highway on the shoulder, said Tim Branscom, Pratt County Emergency Manager.
Driver Darren Martin Jr., 38 of Moreno Valley, Calif., was west bound in a 2010 Kenworth when the fire broke out. Martin, who was wearing a seat belt, was able to get the truck on the shoulder and get the tractor unit unhooked without damage, said Pratt County Sheriff Jimmy White.
Martin was not injured in the fire. The load of batteries was picked up in Pennsylvania.
Units from the Cullison fire department responded to the call and discovered the trailer was loaded with batteries that made it a hazardous material matter, said Branscom who was called to the scene around 7:30 a.m.
The exact cause of the fire is unknown. There were no skid marks indicating that brakes had locked up.
“We don’t know the cause of it,” Branscom said.
Traffic was stopped from both directions until the fire was out then Kansas Department of Transportation reduced traffic to one lane. A hazardous materials company, HMR Haz-Mat Response based in Great Bend was called to handle cleanup of the material. The trailer was completely destroyed and batteries were still in the remains of the trailer and scattered in the ditch.
Troy McFarren, HMR director of operations, used a mini excavator and loaded the batteries into two lined units similar in shape to big dumpsters. He compacted the remains of the trailer so it all laid flat on the trailer bed. The hazardous material and the trailer were taken to the impound lot at Doonan Truck in Great Bend where an insurance company will determine their outcome.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment will evaluate the wreck site to determine what further cleanup, if any, is needed, McFarren said.
Total time for all operations at the wreck site was over 11 hours.