MOHAVE COUNTY, Arizona – A semitrailer caught fire impacting traffic on northbound Interstate 15 in the Virgin River Gorge Wednesday afternoon.
Around 2:30 p.m. MDT, Utah time, smoke began to pour out the engine of a semitrailer hauling roofing tiles on northbound I-15 while traveling through one of the bridge construction zones, Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. John Bottoms said.
Travel in the construction zones is reduced to single-lanes with cement barricades on either side. The driver really had nowhere to go, so he kept moving forward even as smoke filled the semi cab, Bottoms said.
“The driver made a conscious effort to get out of the construction zone,” he said.
When he finally got of the construction area, the driver pulled the semi off the roadway around Arizona mile post 15 and got out of the cab before it was engulfed in smoke and flames.
“The flames just melted that truck right to the ground,” Bottoms said.
He also credited the driver with preventing a major incident on the roadway. If the truck had been stopped while in the construction zone, northbound traffic would have been halted for longer than it was.
AHP troopers closed down northbound I-15 for about 10-20 minutes so fire crews could get to the semi and put the fire out. This caused a three-to-four mile back up in traffic that took about an hour to clear up, Bottoms said.
The cause of the fire is unknown, and while the semi was rendered a complete loss, the blaze did not touch the cargo. The semi’s owner was able to arrange to have another semi to continue hauling the roofing tiles, Bottoms said.
The incident was cleared by 5:30 p.m.
Regular travel through the Gorge has been relegated to single-lane traffic in parts due to construction work being done on bridges spanning the Virgin River. The bridges were built in the 1970s and are currently the focus of a multi-million dollar construction project aimed at updating and rehabilitating the existing structures. As such, traffic in these parts of the gorge can be slowed to anywhere between 20-40 mph during normal travel conditions. Add the holidays or an accident and it gets worse.
In order to avoid a traffic-induced headache, Bottoms often recommends motorists take the alternate route of Old Highway 91 that bypasses the gorge completely. Just be on the lookout for the occasional wandering cow while passing through the Beaver Dam mountains.
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