Fiery I-25 tanker crash caused by blown tire; driver's family releases thankful statement

Posted at 12:16 PM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-01 23:41:29-04

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Thousands of drivers felt the impact Wednesday of a massive fire that closed I-25 for an extended period. Police are now blaming the entire crash on a blown out tire. 

Officials speculated Wednesday after fighting the resulting fire for hours that a blown tire could have been to blame for the tanker crashing into a median on I-25 northbound in the Denver Tech Center. 

GALLERY | See photos from the fire, explosion on I-25 here.

The midday crash blocked traffic through the evening, forcing thousands to find an alternative route home. Despite that, many still were concerned after video surfaced showing the driver escaping the fiery wreckage of the crash.

Emergency first responders rushed the man, who police identified Thursday as (Henry) Enrique Jose Dominguez, 57, to Swedish Medical Center. He sustained burns to his calf, but is expected to be released from the hospital later in the day Thursday. 

"The family of Henry Dominguez wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concerns and support they have received," a family spokesperson said. "We would like to express our gratitude to the emergency responders and staff at Swedish Hospital." 

The family also thanked the CDOT workers who rushed to Dominguez's aid, even when other drivers sped past the wreckage. 

"(They) selflessly rushed towards the burning truck to help get Henry to safety," the family wrote. "Our family is so thankful we will be able to take Henry home with us again." 

Ultimately, while the truck Dominguez drove began to involve into a ball of flame, he jumped. Two nearby workers helped rush him away, with a third driver walking toward the scene to assist. That video can be seen in the video player above. 

Officials also released the name of the trucking company, identifying it as Reynolds Transport Company of Orleans, Indiana. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation opened all lanes of I-25 early Thursday morning before rush-hour with the help of 100 workers in what CDOT described as a "Herculean" effort to open the road for commuters.

“The road is safe, it’s fully repaired,” CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said.Additional work will need to be done on the median between the two sides of the highway, but the roadway is safe for the nearly 300,000 vehicles traveling on it each day. 

CDOT officials still can't say how much the crash and damaged roadway will cost Colorado taxpayers. They say regardless of cost, they'll have to find space in the budget, even if it takes away from other projects. 

"When you think about what could have happened, we are blessed that it was what it was and that the driver is also safe," Ford said. 

Diesel was one of the liquids burning in Wednesday’s fire. It’s less flammable than gasoline.

“Every fuel has a flash point,” said Denver Fire Department Assistant Chief James Hart. “Diesel has to be about 125 degrees before it catches fire. It doesn’t readily ignite.”

To demonstrate that diesel isn’t easily ignited, Denver Fire Lt. Jon Schauer held a blow torch over diesel he poured in a metal pan. It did not light on fire.

He tried the same thing with gasoline and it lit quickly.

“Gasoline’s flash point is negative 40 degrees. It vaporizes faster and will burn faster,” Hart said.

Vapor from fuel is most flammable and can be ignited by hot breaks, sparks or a fire in the cab of a vehicle, for example. A spokeswoman for Greenwood Village Police told Denver7 Investigates a tire blow out caused the wreck and fire on I-25, but investigators have not said what specifically ignited the fuels onboard.

“After a fuel tank or fuel line is punctured it can leak out quickly under pressure. In the wind it can turn to vapor and those smaller particles give the substance more surface area to burn and that’s where it ignites. If it stays in a large pool, there isn’t often enough surface area to burn,” Hart said.