Massive tanker fire closes I-25 in Denver Tech Center; fire spreads to both sides

Posted at 12:03 PM, May 31, 2017

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Road crews pulled one person from flaming wreckage Wednesday morning as a fuel tanker caught fire after crashing into a median on I-25.

Colorado Department of Transportation officials immediately closed down the interstate when the tanker caught fire. Fuel spilled into the roadway, spreading the fire across the median.

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

Billowing smoke from the fire could be seen from miles away; crews from multiple fire agencies rushed to I-25 to begin battling the flames. The firefight lasted until just before 3 p.m., when the flames were contained. 

According to witnesses, the tanker crashed just before 12 p.m. while traveling on northbound I-25.

Chris Modlin, who witnessed the crash and fire, said flames burst from the tanker as soon as it hit the median and three or four explosions occurred not long after. 

"Instant flames engulfed the entire truck as the driver was still in the truck," Modlin said. "As you saw the flames continued to engulf the truck and continued to catch on fire as the explosions continued to go off." 

Modlin detailed what he described as a heroic rescue, saying a nearby road crew pulled the driver from the burning vehicle. 

TRAFFIC | If you're trapped in the traffic nightmare, here are some tips for finding an alternative route. 

"One of the road crews was able to help put out the flame on the driver's leg and help carry him to safety," Modlin said. 

Fire crews continued to battle the fire for hours, explaining their struggle was the tanker's load, which was comprised of 500 gallons of diesel fuel, along with 500 gallons of other fuels. 

The victim's condition is still not known, but officials did confirm they rushed the driver of the tanker to Swedish Medical Center.

Traffic was snarled in the areas surrounding the crash along the I-25 corridor. Crews did not estimate when the major roadway would reopen, with the solid block still persisting in the Denver Tech Center. 

But it wasn’t just traffic on the highway that was being affected. 

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) shut down the E, F and R lines as they due to the fire, initially saying the fire melted a light rail line. Three hours later they issued a correction and announced that there was no damage done to the rails. Service was back up and running by about 3:15 p.m.

According to CDOT officials in a 3:15 p.m. update, southbound lanes of I-25 were reopening, although a closure is set to last through the morning commute on the northbound side. 

Due to the traffic congestion, E-470 officials waived tolls through the rest of the day in order to alleviate traffic on the roads, but would not say how if the tolls would be waived through Thursday morning.

After an assessment of the roadways and announcing that all southbound lanes were open through traffic, CDOT officials said they expected to have one or more lanes open on NB I-25 by the morning.

It wasn’t immediately clear at what time they expected for the roadways to open to travelers.

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Officials weren't prepared to say how the fire began, only speculating that it may have sparked with a blown tire. They say they will parse out responsibility after concluding investigation. 

Watch our initial coverage of the fuel tanker fire below: 



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