Tanker erupts on Loveland Pass | AspenTimes.com

Tanker erupts on Loveland Pass

Robert Allen
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

A tanker carrying 7,300 gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline burns after overturning on Highway 6 near the summit of Loveland Pass west of Denver, Colo., Wednesday, Aug 5, 2009. The driver was able to crawl up the side of the embankment, escaping without injuries. The mountain pass heavily used by truckers was expected to remain closed overnight Wednesday. The cause of the accident is being investigated. (AP Photo/Summit Daily - Mark Fox)

LOVELAND PASS, Colo. – A tanker loaded with 7,300 gallons of fuel erupted into flames Wednesday afternoon after the driver lost control descending Loveland Pass toward Arapahoe Basin.

“It was just like a big ball of fire and smoke, and then you kept hearing different pops – it was like exploding at different times,” said witness Carol Lewis, of Chicago.

Tyrrell Kochenower, who was driving the tanker for Monument Transportation, escaped through the driver’s side door before the leaking fuel – 3,800 gallons of diesel and 3,500 gallons of 85-octane unleaded – ignited.

Nobody was injured.

Colorado State Trooper Markus Winter said the tanker appears to have rolled while rounding a corner westbound on Highway 6 before sliding into the guardrail. The scene was a bit more than a mile below the summit of the pass.

The fuel is believed to have caught on fire 10 to 20 seconds after the truck rolled. Winter said there could have been a much larger explosion if the load weren’t so full, because fumes combust more rapidly.

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The highway was closed indefinitely in both directions after the wreck, which occurred at about 2:30 p.m.

Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue had two engines, two tenders and 13 firefighters on the scene, but they didn’t try to extinguish the blaze.

“As it turns out, that mixture of diesel and gas is a really nice fuel for fire. Our strategy here is to let it burn,” said Steve Lipsher, LDFR public information officer.

He said to let the fuel burn completely is “more thorough” than trying to extinguish the flames and clean up the runoff. However, some foam was sprayed near the bottom of the road’s embankment to protect vegetation.

Flames reached more than 30 feet toward the sky as a black, billowing plume of smoke was visible from across Summit County.

Firefighters used a thermal camera to measure temperatures as high as 1,400 F at the heart of the blaze.

Lewis, who called 911 shortly after the crash, said her car was the first behind the tanker.

“I was pretty hysterical. I was so concerned about the driver,” she said. “I’m amazed he got out of it.”

Denver Water was on scene examining small tributaries running downstream from the crash site. Spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said a boom – equipment for containing spills – was put in the water “just to be safe,” but that no contamination was found.

rallen@summitdaily.com