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Burning Chemicals Close I-5 Truck Bursts Into Flames; 20 Oregon Families Evacuated

Fri., Jan. 2, 1998

A triple-trailer truck loaded with corrosive chemicals burst into flames Thursday, forcing the closure of Interstate 5 for several hours about 12 miles north of Roseburg.

Some 20 families were evacuated briefly from nearby houses.

No one was injured in the blaze, which closed the freeway’s northbound lanes for 9-1/2 hours and the southbound lanes for four hours.

The burning trailer was carrying acid etch, a corrosive liquid used to finish metal in the computer industry.

Because the chemical can be toxic, homes were evacuated within a half-mile radius of the fire at about 8 a.m. Residents were allowed to return to their homes about 2-1/2 hours later.

The fire occurred on a stretch of freeway between the small towns of Sutherlin and Oakland.

Traffic was rerouted through Oakland on Oregon 99. Both southbound lanes were reopened at 10:30 a.m. Crews finally opened one northbound lane at 3 p.m. The second lane wasn’t expected to be open until this afternoon, said Meghan Dugan, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Richard Rodriguez, 44, of Pico Rivera, Calif., said he was asleep in the sleeper compartment of the Salt Lake City-based Motor Cargo triple trailer while Ken Devillers of Fontana, Calif., was driving northbound in heavy fog.

Rodriguez said he was startled awake about 5:30 a.m. by a loud noise.

Rodriguez said it appeared two inner tires on the middle trailer had blown out. By the time he and Devillers got out to look, Rodriguez said, the trailer was in flames.

He said Devillers tried to put out the flames, while Rodriguez disconnected the tractor and blocked the road. Rodriguez wasn’t sure of the kind of chemicals inside the trailers, but both men knew enough to keep other motorists away.

“I wouldn’t want them to inhale some,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said they began their trip in Los Angeles, picked up a third trailer in Medford and were on their way to Portland.

First Strike Environmental of Roseburg will do the cleanup, Dugan said.

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