Gas tanker crash closes pass

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— Rabbit Ears Pass was closed for eight hours after a gasoline tanker carrying more than 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 2,500 gallons of unleaded gasoline rolled over early Tuesday morning.

The driver of the truck, Mike Johnston, 40, of Evans, suffered minor injuries and was transported to Yampa Valley Medical Center.

The pass closed at about 9 a.m. and did not open until about 5 p.m.

The accident happened at about 7 a.m. Tuesday when a truck coming from Denver and headed to Seneca Coal Mine lost control and drove off the side of the road, rolling the tractor once and the trailer three-quarters of a time, Trooper Gary Kendall said.

The accident occurred near mile marker 149, about two miles west of the West Summit and in an area known as the Mud Hole. The driver had been traveling on a level section of road that went into a steep downgrade turn. The man was not traveling at a safe speed for the road conditions, Kendall said.

The road was icy and snow-covered at the time of the accident, and the pass already had received about 8 to 10 inches of snow, Kendall said.

Crews from the Colorado State Patrol and its HAZ-MAT team, the Moffat County HAZ-MAT team, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Steamboat Springs Fire Department are working to contain the fuel spill. The fuel did not spill onto the road, but did spill in the area around the truck. Crews wanted to transfer the tanker's remaining fuel into other tankers before clearing the wreckage, Kendall said.

The HAZ-MAT crews had to drill 4-inch holes in the tanker to extract the remaining fuel from it.

They recovered 2,300 gallons of the 2,500 gallons of unleaded gasoline the truck was carrying, and just less than 2,800 gallons of the more than 5,000 gallons of diesel that was on board.

The snow made it difficult to gauge how much fuel was spilled and where it went, Kendall said.

Later in the morning, a contracting company that was called to clean up the spill wrecked on Cameron Pass while driving to the crash site. The contractors probably would wait until the snow melted before testing the soil and cleaning up the gasoline that leaked into the ground, Kendall said.

The pass was closed to keep crews safe as they cleaned up the wreckage in dangerous road conditions, he said.

"We didn't want a situation to happen, anything to ignite the fuel," Kendall said.

Snow hampered the cleanup efforts a little bit, Kendall said, but it also helped in suppressing the fuel vapors.

Even before the road was closed, Kendall said, the State Patrol had received reports of tractor trailers having accidents because they were not using chains. Accidents are common during the first snowstorm of the year, he said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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