The driver of a fuel tanker told police that he heard a loud pop as he traveled along U.S. 59 in Sugar Land, Texas, Thursday night. He exited the freeway about 11:30 p.m. to investigate and found that the back wheels of his truck, which was laden with 9,000 gallons of diesel, were on fire. The flames quickly engulfed the truck and the vehicle exploded, creating a fire so intense that it burned nearby utility poles and knocked out power to homes and businesses in the area. No injuries were reported.
Authorities shut down both the northbound and southbound sections of U.S. 59 as fire crews worked to fight the blaze and clear the debris, including the charred remains of the tanker truck. The freeway was fully re-opened around 4 a.m.
Not all of the fuel burned. Various reports say that some of it spilled onto the road and into nearby drains. Hazmat crews worked to clean the spilled fuel from the road and out of the underground drainage system.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), nearly a million shipments of fuel and other hazardous materials are hauled by trucks on American highways and roads every day. Strict adherence to safety regulations governing the transportation of hazmat products is especially critical in the commercial trucking industry.
Each year, 200 hazmat trucks are involved in fatal crashes and 5,000 in non-fatal crashes each year. According to the FMCSA, “although these numbers are small relative to the totals of almost 5,000 trucks involved in fatal crashes and 400,000 involved in nonfatal crashes annually, the potential for human injury and property damage in hazmat crashes is much greater.”
Investigators don’t yet know what caused the loud popping sound the driver heard or how the truck caught fire.