Burning beer truck shuts I-5 lanes

A tractor-trailer packing hundreds of Anheuser-Busch beer kegs slowed interstate traffic near Ashland on Tuesday after it caught fire.

The big rig was hauling the beer into Oregon from California when it suddenly burst into flames at milepost 17 near the port of entry station, Jackson County Fire District No. 5 Chief Steve Maziarski said.

"The driver managed to stop and get it to the side of the road," Maziarski said. "He was not injured."

The front half of the trailer burned through, exposing the beer kegs stacked inside.

The heat caused the trailer's tires to explode, sending smoking chunks of rubber onto the shoulder of Interstate 5.

The fire most likely sparked after the rig's brakes overheated, officials said.

"We do not have a definite cause of the fire yet," Maziarski said.

District 5 engines rushed to the scene and quickly doused the flames before they spread to a nearby grassy hill along the interstate.

"We were lucky the wind was blowing in from the west, otherwise we could have had a grass fire," Maziarski said.

Oregon State Police shut down both lanes of northbound traffic for about 20 minutes while fire crews fought the blaze.

One lane was then opened, allowing long lines of cars and trucks to crawl through the area.

The trailer was registered to Top Carriers, a distribution company out of California.

The driver was stranded along the interstate for a brief time before another long-haul driver stopped to give him a ride.

Maziarski said the beer kegs are pressurized, but would not explode in the heat.

"They might pop, but it wouldn't cause an explosion," he said.

District 5 was not taking any chances, however. The agency sent a water tender and grass rig to the scene in case the flames reached the grass along the interstate.

The warm, breezy day could have pushed the fire well into the pasture along the freeway and possibly into nearby homes.

The rig was not drivable after the fire and had to be hauled away by a tow truck.

"(Oregon Department of Transportation crews) have a heck of a salvage job ahead of them," Maziarski said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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