A semi trailer-truck filled with computers caught fire twice Saturday evening, causing the westbound lanes of Interstate 44 east of St. Robert to be shut down two different times.
Nobody was injured in the blaze that consumed the cab of the 18-wheeler and damaged part of the trailer, according to St. Robert Fire Chief Doug Cage.
The fire chief said as far as he knows, two men escaped from the semi unharmed. He did not have the names of the individuals when The Rolla Daily News contacted him Sunday afternoon.
The first fire was initially reported near mile marker 165 around 7 p.m. Saturday. St. Robert Fire Department crews extinguished that blaze but the fire reignited again around 9 p.m.
Cage said he believes the fire initially started in the engine of the cab, fully engulfed the cab and then winds spread the fire to the front of the trailer.
“The tractor caught fire and spread to the trailer before we were able to get there,” the fire chief said, adding that his crews extinguished the blaze from the front of the cab and inside the back of the trailer.
Firefighters thought they had the fire under control but “apparently, there was fuel leaking out of a hole,” Cage said, which is believed to be what started the second fire.
“It was so melted, we couldn’t see everything,” he said, adding that after the first blaze was controlled, a thermal imaging camera showed there was no additional heat in the area.
“There was so much debris around,” Cage added.
Cage said that water had to be shuttled from fire trucks in the eastbound lanes across the median to the fire in the westbound lanes.
A section of the interstate east of the incident was shut down for about two hours initially, then reopened for a short time before being closed again during the second fire. The interstate finally reopened for good around 9:30 p.m. The tractor-trailer was then towed from the scene.
“It’s a difficulty sometimes when we have to shut the interstate down, but the protection of my guys is my first concern,” Cage said. “We had very good protection from the highway patrol and the St. Robert Police Department.”
Cage said westbound traffic was diverted onto the outer road and Old Route 66 at exit 169, Highway J, but the motorists who had already traveled past that exit had to wait.