Semi tanker burns on I-55 ramp

April 2, 2008 9:02:06 PM PDT
A tanker truck caught fire after it rolled over on a ramp to the Stevenson Expressway near suburban Lemont. Traffic was backed up for miles as firefighters tried to put it out.

The truck rolled over shortly before 4 p.m. The flames were extinguished around 6:45 p.m. as firefighters sprayed foam on the wreckage, but thick, black smoke continued to fill the air on the southbound side of Interste 55 on the ramp.

The driver was able to escape. He was treated then airlifted from Good Samaritan Hospital to Stroger Hospital. A passerby called 911 after reportedly seeing the fire and watching the driver jump from the cab, on fire himself.

The driver suffered severe burns around his head, said a Stroger Hospital spokesman. He is in serious but stable condition. The driver is 46 years old.

This was a regular gasoline fuel fire, not diesel. Authorities believe the tanker ruptured once it rolled over, appearing as if it exploded.

Jim MacMahon, owner of MacMahon Cartage Inc. out of Lockport said the truck is his company's.

McMahon has 17 tanker trucks. He says his driver had filled up with with about 8,700 gallons of gas at the refinery in Lemont and was headed to a gas station to drop it off.

MacMahon said he was hopeful that witnesses would come forward.

"If there was a witness to the situation, please come forward," he said. "The gasoline burned off and hopefully there was no environmental damage. In the big scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse. Most importantly, our driver sustained serious burns but they are not life threatening."

MacMahon said the driver has worked for the company for approximately four years. He says he is a great employee with a good driving record.

McMahon says their company's safety team as well as their insurance company are also investigating.

The intense fire only left behind a mass of warped and twisted metal. McMahon Cartage is having clean up crews clean all the hazardous waste.

The intense fire only left behind a mass of warped and twisted metal. McMahon Cartage is having clean up crews clean all the hazardous waste.

Firefighters say the nearly three-hour duration of the fire was partly prolonged purposely.

"The plan at the time was to let it burn off because we had some concerns about the environment and environmental hazards," said Wayne Messenger, Darien-Woodridge Fire Protection District.

Fire officials did not douse the fire because they were concerned about gas entering the sewer system.

Foam teams from CITGO and Chicago's Midway Airport extinguished the flames.

"As long as everybody was safe, that was the best that could happen. As soon as we had the area protected, we got in there and knocked it down," said Battalion Chief Joseph Worden, Darien-Woodridge FPD.

Illinois State Police are investigating the cause of the accident.

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