By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A firefighter was injured Thursday when burned cargo from a tractor-trailer stopped on Interstate 77 fell on him.
The incident was reported at approximately 5:55 p.m. near mile marker 14 just north of Exit 14 on Athens Road. A helicopter ambulance was initially planned, but it was later canceled, according to a dispatcher with Mercer County 911. The Princeton Rescue Squad was dispatched. The firefighter’s identity could not be confirmed Thursday evening.
The Bluestone Valley, Green Valley-Glenwood, Oakvale, East River Volunteer and Princeton Fire Departments were alerted at approximately 3 p.m. when a tractor-trailer fire near mile marker 14 was reported. Fire responders soon learned that bales of cardboard hauled by two truckers were burning.
Traffic was reduced to one lane from the Camp Creek to the Athens Road exits for several hours while firefighters contained the blazes and extinguished fire on a neighboring hillside.
The tractor-trailers’ drivers were not injured, said Cpl. R.T. Stinson of the West Virginia State Police Turnpike detachment.
“Just the trailer portions caught on fire,” Stinson said at the scene while firefighters sprayed the smoldering bales on one truck. He looked to the hillside. “I’m surprised more of that didn’t catch on fire.”
Stinson said he had “no idea” at that time how the fire started. The trucks’ brakes did not catch on fire.
“I’m speculating that a passerby might have thrown a cigarette out their vehicle, but that’s only speculation,” he stated.
One truck’s driver, 47-year-old Frank Wallace of Tazewell, Va., said he was hauling cardboard bales to Tazewell when his partner in a second tractor-trailer noticed smoke coming from the cardboard. Wallace pulled over, but then embers spread fire to the second truck’s cardboard.
Fire Chief Tim Farley of the Bluestone Valley Volunteer Fire Department said the second truck’s cargo was not as badly burned. It was driven off Exit 14 to a fire hydrant where members of the Princeton Fire Department extinguished the burning cargo.
Putting out the fire was difficult because water had a hard time reaching the flames, Farley said.
“It’s so tightly packed, you can’t get to it,” he explained while more water was sprayed directly into the bales. “With bales of cardboard, the only way you can get to it is to break (bales) apart.”
The truck’s owner, Southwest Sanitation, was sending a large garbage container to haul the cardboard way, said Arnold Boothe, the company’s owner.
Looking at the damaged cargo, Boothe pointed out how it had burned from the top down. A tossed cigarette or cigar could have landed on the cargo and fell between the bales, he said. Boothe had once seen a similar fire, but it started at the bottom of the trailer and burned from the bottom up.