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Tractor-trailer fire causes havoc on I-95 in Fairfield

Updated 5:23 pm, Thursday, August 2, 2012

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  • Traffic was at virtual standstill near northbound Exit 23 on Interstate 95 in Fairfield after a tractor-trailer truck crashed and caught fire. Here, debris is cleared from the crash scene. Photo: CT DOT Traffic Camera / Fairfield Citizen contributed
    Traffic was at virtual standstill near northbound Exit 23 on Interstate 95 in Fairfield after a tractor-trailer truck crashed and caught fire. Here, debris is cleared from the crash scene. Photo: CT DOT Traffic Camera

 

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A tractor-trailer truck carrying paper towels caught fire early Thursday on Interstate 95 in Fairfield, scattering debris in the road and bringing traffic to a standstill for more than four hours.

Fairfield Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bisson said in a news release the truck caught fire just after 3 a.m. near exit 23 on I-95 northbound.

Jimmy Leahy, a New Hampshire resident, said he was driving the tractor-trailer from Allentown, Pa., to Rhode Island. As he passed by Exit 22 in Fairfield, he said he saw sparks coming from the back of his truck.

He pulled over, just before exit 23 and when he got out of his cab, he saw that one of the rear, inner tires was on fire.

Leahy said he grabbed a fire extinguisher from the cab, but it didn't work. He tried a second fire extinguisher, but by then the blaze was spreading to the paper-filled cargo compartment, so he said he detached the cab from the trailer and called 911. The tractor-trailer was quickly engulfed in flames and destroyed.

"I've never had anything like this happen to me before," said Leahy, who has been driving for about a year and a half. "I've seen it happen to other drivers, but never had it happen to me."

Leahy, who works for Omaha, Neb.-based Werner Enterprises, said he was not injured as he watched workers pick up the debris left behind by his burned-out trailer.

Bisson said a Fairfield firefighter was taken to St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport to be evaluated for heat-related stress, but was released by 8 a.m.

The cost of the damage to the truck was not immediately known.

Leahy said he didn't have any trouble with the truck prior to seeing the sparks. The cause of the fire was accidental as a result of an unknown equipment malfunction, Bisson said.

"This was a deep-seated fire that could not be easily extinguished and required interagency cooperation between the State Police, DOT and the private towing contractor to quickly control and mitigate," Bisson said. "We were very fortunate that hazardous chemicals were not involved and there were no other injuries."

The right and center lanes were both closed for more than three hours before the center lane re-opened around 6:30 a.m., according to the state DOT. While the two lanes were closed, traffic was backed up into Westport. The crash also caused "rubber-necking" delays on the southbound side of the highway. The exit 23 ramp was also closed until the scene was cleared.

The highway was fully re-opened by 10 a.m.