Truck driver dies in fiery Vail Pass crash that closed Interstate 70 for hours Thursday and Friday
VAIL — The driver of a semi died Thursday afternoon when his rig crashed and burst into flames while descending Vail Pass on Interstate 70.
The 64-year old trucker from California, whose name has not been released, drove his 2011 Freightliner off the left side of the westbound lanes, through the median, through a construction zone, through the eastbound lanes, over an embankment and into Gore Creek, where it caught fire, said Trooper Josh Lewis, public information officer with the Colorado State Patrol.
No other vehicles were involved, Lewis said, and the crash investigation remains ongoing.
The trailer and cab broke apart during the crash. The trailer spilled some of its load of corn, and teetered on the edge of a drop-off. The truck’s cab fell into a deep ravine, where it caught fire.
To extinguish the blaze, Vail firefighters and Vail Mountain Rescue group members had to rappel into the ravine. Their work was complicated because the truck was between two waterfalls, one above the truck and one below, said Mark Novak, Vail’s fire chief.
Firefighters then lowered a hose to extinguish the fire, which had spread to some of the surrounding trees and plants, Novak said.
A water truck from Lake Dillon Fire Rescue provided water to fight the fire. Firefighters extinguished the blaze by 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
The eastbound lanes of I-70 were closed for four hours Thursday night, and they were closed again for a couple hours Friday morning as firefighters, rescue workers and first responders recovered the trucker’s body, Novak said. The Colorado Department of Transportation opened one eastbound lane to motorists just before 11 a.m. Friday but warned of continued delays.
Removing the truck will require a crane and will likely mean more road closures in the coming days, Novak said.
Assisting agencies included Eagle River Fire Protection District, Eagle County Paramedic District, Vail Mountain Rescue, Copper Mountain Fire Department, Lake Dillon Fire Rescue, Greater Eagle Fire District, U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Department of Transportation, Vail Public Safety Communication Center and Vail Police.
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Colorado has had more than 900 wildfires this year, consuming more than 330,000 acres. The statewide fire ban has been extended through September due to ongoing dry conditions.