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Fiery crash closes I-80; Aftermath destroys road, strands motorists while UDOT repaves

Posted: Friday, Jul 18th, 2014

Two semitrucks burn on Interstate 80 in Echo Canyon early Wednesday morning as firefighters from Uinta County and Summit County, Utah, work to contain the blaze. The accident left one man in critical condition and destroyed a stretch of the interstate, which had to be repaved, causing a 13-hour closure. (COURTESY PHOTO/North Summit Fire District)

By Bryon Glathar

Herald Managing Editor

ECHO CANYON, Utah — A fiery accident involving two semitrucks on westbound Interstate 80 in Echo Canyon left hundreds of motorists either stranded in Evanston or forced to alternate routes Wednesday.

According to Tyler Rowser of the North Summit Fire District, the crash occurred around 4:45 a.m. Wednesday at milepost 182, when a semi carrying about 500 car batteries, along with several 55-gallon drums of acid, collided with another semi that was stopped along the road. Rowser said he believes the semi that was struck was partially on the shoulder and partially on the roadway.

The driver of the moving vehicle was flown to a Salt Lake City hospital in “extremely critical condition,” Rowser told the Herald yesterday.

Officials closed I-80 in both directions during a cooperative effort to contain the blaze.

“We did receive mutual aid from Uinta County Fire and Wasatch Back Hazmat,” Rowser said. “Once we got the data sheets on [the hazardous materials involved] we decided to let the fire burn and mix some water in with it to get it contained. We had control of the fire by 6:30, but there were still hot spots that had to be contained and put out well into the 7:30 hour.”

But containing the fire and cleaning up the hazardous material was only part of the problem for officials and motorists alike.

“UDOT had to come in and repave the road,” Rowser said. “It ruined the road. They had to come in and tear out what was left and put in new asphalt — that’s what took the longest.”

Eastbound lanes were opened later Wednesday morning but westbound travelers had to wait until nearly 6 p.m. to continue traveling I-80.

In the meantime, motorists crowded Evanston streets throughout the day, looking for places to park or creative ways to reach their destinations.

“Some people get impatient,” said Scott Prescott, a truck driver from Powell. He’d only been stranded for about an hour when he spoke with the Herald at 2 p.m. in the Walmart parking lot, which was packed with semitrucks, campers and other vehicles.

Others had much longer waits.

“I’ve been here since 8 o’clock this morning,” Gregory Leigh, another long-haul trucker said. “We got to the state line and they turned us around, parked at the Walmart and now just waiting,” Leigh said.

A veteran driver of 12 years, Leigh said he’s no stranger to getting stuck due to I-80 closures. But, he said, drivers don’t expect such delays in the summer.

“It’s the snow that usually gets us out here,” he said.

Leigh was hauling a load of miscellaneous freight for CRST from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Salt Lake City.

“Yeah, very close,” he said, about nearly making it to his destination before the closure, “almost there.”

He said he made the most of his day by getting some shut-eye.

“Well, I’ve been sleeping,” he said. “I drove all night.”

Manuel Galiudo of Rawlins said he and his family, who were traveling to Ogden, Utah, to visit friends, were willing to wait it out at the Flying J. He said they pulled into town around 11:30 a.m.

“All I saw was just a bunch of 18-wheelers,” he said. “I thought they were the ones causing [the delay].”

He said they drove around town for a while trying to decide what to do before coming to a rest at Flying J. Galiudo, who’d been waiting in the parking lot for a little over two hours when he spoke to the Herald, said it’s frustrating, but out of his control.

“I mean, what can you do?” he asked. “We’re all stuck, not just me.”

The lengthy road closure wasn’t bad news for everyone. Some local businesses reported booming sales from the incident.

“We’re so busy that I can’t talk right now,” said Tessi Malan, a Flying J employee, “and we’re trying to cover another shift tonight.”

On the other hand, Subway shift leader Jeff Shaffer seemed relieved to speak to the Herald.

“I’ve been dying for a cigarette for over two and a half hours,” he said. “It’s just been crazy today.”

But crazy can mean good for business.

“Oh yeah, we’ve been slammed,” he said. “I’d say we did double our regular business — almost.”

He said the closure had an immediate effect on the restaurant.

“When I got here at 7 a.m., our parking lot was already full, and I wondered what the hell was going on.”

Schaffer said the restaurant called in extra staff to help the influx of customers.

Nearby Romantix apparently saw positive effects from the I-80 closure, as well.

“Yeah, it’s been crazy,” Sarah Tingey said. “Our parking lot’s been full of ... people all day.”

Although Tingey said she’s only worked at the store for three days, she said Wednesday was “by far the busiest” day since she started.

For the complete article see the 07-18-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-18-2014 paper.

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