Flames erupted near the rear axle of a fuel tanker, apparently from an overheated brake, as the tractor-trailer headed north on Interstate 81 in the town of Watertown on Monday night, forcing a closure of the highway for nearly six hours.
Flames engulfed all 16 tires on the trailer, and efforts by firefighters from six departments averted what could have become major trouble, said Joseph D. Plummer, Jefferson County director of fire and emergency management. Aluminum support components were melting away, he said, and he estimated that in another 15 minutes, four tanks carrying a total of 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel would have collapsed down to the trailers frame and likely would have ruptured.
Then we would have had a lot of fire in a lot of places, resulting in damage to the road and nearby land, and potential injury to emergency responders, Mr. Plummer said.
Fire units from Glen Park, Adams Center, Sackets Harbor, town of Watertown, Brownville and Fort Drum responded to the 9:10 p.m. alarm and confined the fire with a mixture of water and foam.
The driver, Clinton Steere, Parish, who discovered the blaze, was not injured.
All lanes of the highway were closed between the Watertown Center and Arsenal Street exits until 3 a.m. In the meantime, the fuel was off-loaded to another tanker and was delivered to its intended destination, Longways Truck Stop in the town of Pamelia, Mr. Plummer said.
A deputy sheriff reported that Mr. Steere noticed while driving that sparks were shooting from the rear of his rig. After stopping and getting out, he found one of the rear tires on fire. By the time fire units responded, flames had spread to engulf up to a third of the trailer, the deputy reported.
The rig is owned by Mirabito Fuel Group, Syracuse.