Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Big Rig Fire Spreads to Highway 17 Hillside

Photo By John Whitaker
Where were you just before midnight on Wednesday, September 5th? Fire Associates members were near the summit of Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains as a tanker truck burned to the ground!
At 11:22 P.M., the Santa Clara County Fire Department called for FASCV's assistance on Highway 17 as it winds its way towards Santa Cruz. Don Gilbert and John Whitaker responded in Fire Support Unit 2. With all lanes of the 4-lane highway totally shut down, Don and John had to bring FSU-2 southbound in the northbound lanes from the Redwood Estates turn-off to the fire scene. Although deemed "safe" it is always an odd-feeling experience to be going the wrong way down a divided roadway. They were joined on scene by FASCV members George Hoyt and Dan Wong, along with Walter Huber (guest).

Located in the southbound lanes, about one-half mile north of the Summit Road overpass, a semi-truck was on fire. The uninjured driver reported that a fire began in the engine compartment of the near-new Freightliner tractor. Before fire crews could arrive, the rig's cab had burned to the ground -- literally! The big-rig was owned by Praxair and was transporting a load of liquid nitrogen "over the hill". Although singed, the large, insulated tank was not compromised and the load remained fully contained.
Photo By John Whitaker
Meanwhile, the blaze spread into the wildland along the shoulder of the mountainous highway. Using the dense brush and trees as fuel, the fire quickly raced up the 60-degree slope. Arriving County Fire crews were face with a diesel truck fully ablaze, and a wildland fire racing up a steep hill in the middle of the night. They were joined in the firefighting effort by Cal Fire units from CZU (Santa Cruz) and SCU (Santa Clara) as well as a Cal Fire camp crew from Ben Lomond. Additional water was provided by a water tender from the Loma Prieta Volunteers. A mutual aid request also went out for help from the San Jose Fire Department and a request was made for an EMS Task Force from Rural-Metro Ambulance. They provided 3 EMS units and an EMS supervisor.

With middle-of-the-night temperatures in the low 60s, and no wind, fire crews actually enjoyed some good firefighting weather. FASCV provided cold drinks, Clif Bars and the ever-popular donuts. With the blaze under control, and Cal Fire crews awaiting the arrival of a big-rig tow truck, Fire Associates was released at approximately 2:15 A.M.
--- Report submitted by John Whitaker