URBANA — Working under scary weather conditions, Urbana firefighters saved a load of concrete paving products and cultured marble inside a burning tractor trailer truck on Interstate 74 Monday night.
Urbana Fire Division Chief Brian Nightlinger said firefighters were called to the westbound lanes of I-74 just east of Cunningham Avenue at the base of the exit ramp to Cunningham at 10:20 p.m.
"The tractor was fully involved, the trailer was not. Because it was east of Cunningham, we had to go to University to get to the fire," said Nightlinger.
The driver of the truck, Mehmed Dautovic, 48, of St. Louis, got out unharmed and was in an Illinois State trooper's car while firefighters fought the fire under poor visibility, a factor that had Nightlinger on high alert.
"Any time we go on the interstate, my utmost concern is the safety of my firefighters. When I turned off Five Points and headed to the interchange, visibility was extremely poor," said Nightlinger of the heavy snow at that hour.
"Right then, I had a huge concern because of the vehicles going 60 to 70 mph and fire trucks parked on the interstate. We're trained on that and have practiced blocking and diverting traffic," he said, adding they don't like to do that for fear they might cause a worse accident somewhere else on the interstate.
Because of the location of the burning semi, Nightlinger had a truck from the Lincoln Avenue station come from the east while the other trucks came from the west.
"Engine 253 stopped at the concrete median, fired up the master stream — the big nozzle on top of the truck — and controlled the fire from the eastbound lanes. They kept the fire from getting into the trailer while the downtown units ... came in from University Avenue and put a hand line on it and extinguished it," he said.
Nightlinger said Urbana police helped divert traffic off the interstate at the University Avenue exit for about a half hour while the firefighters got the fire under control.
Firefighters from the Carroll Fire Department hauled water to the interstate and Reynolds Towing got the burned truck off the highway. Firefighters completely cleared the scene at 12:10 a.m. Tuesday.
"As soon as I could, I got that engine off the highway. That's no place for people to be in a snowstorm, let alone in good weather. So many emergency responders are hurt on interstates," Nightlinger said, praising the efforts of all the firefighters and towing employees.
He said the cab of the truck was burned so thoroughly that Urbana firefighters were not likely to find the cause. The driver reported that the fire started in the engine.
"For what we had, it turned out as good as can be expected and nobody got hurt," said Nightlinger.