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44,000 pounds of milk go up in smoke in truck blaze on I-26

Contributed Photo • A trailer goes up in flames coming down the mountain on Interstate 26 from North Carolina.

By Richard Rourk

There’s no crying over spilled milk, but what about burned milk? That was the situation on Sunday, Aug. 29, when a truck fire caused lanes of traffic to be closed briefly on Interstate 26.

“A tractor trailer fire caused one lane of I-26 mile marker 50.6 to close early Sunday morning,” said Unicoi County Emergency Management Director Jimmy Erwin. “The road remained one lane until the cleanup crew finished offloading the milk products and hauled the burned trailer off.”

Erwin confirmed that there were no injuries and that multiple agencies worked to clear the scene and was able to open the interstate back up Sunday afternoon. 

“The tractor and trailer was from an Asheville milk company going to Maryland,” Erwin said. “It had 44,000 pounds of milk in gallons and half gallons. Southside Fire Department was the primary fire department on scene and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Transportation came to secure the scene. TDOT closed one lane to give safety to the emergency workers and the Mountain View Wrecker Service out of Johnson County that came up to clean up the fire. Marion Environmental out of Gray came and took care of the diesel in the tanks to prevent any spread of diesel on the ground.”

Sunday’s fire is the second tractor trailer fire that occurred on I-26 in Unicoi County this year. In April, at mile marker 47.6 on I-26 a tractor-trailer out of South Carolina was coming down the mountain when the brakes got hot and caught fire. The truck was hauling foam pellets made to put into bed mattresses. I-26 was shut down for about two hours for cleanup after that blaze.

Erwin confirmed that hot brakes were again the most likely cause of Sunday’s fire. 

“Driving down the mountain is a lot different than flat driving that some truckers are used to,” Erwin said. “What happens is when you ride the brakes they get hot and can catch fire. It’s best to ease off the brakes as much as possible to prevent them from overheating. Fortunately no one was injured.”

Erwin said he is thankful for everyone’s patience and for all the organizations that helped keep the Interstate travel safe. 

“A special shout out to TDOT which gets left out of many thank yous involving first response,” Erwin said. “TDOT is a big partner for first responders responding to motor vehicle accidents, fires and other things and on our state highways. TDOT has been along beside us ever since 6:30 a.m. this morning when the initial call came in making the road as safe as possible for first responders and the clean up crew. Here in Unicoi County we are very lucky to have our TDOT and our Unicoi County Highway Department which supports emergency services and helps in any way possible.”

Photo Contributed • 44,000 pounds of milk were lost in the fire.