I-65 update: Both southbound lanes reopened

5:35 p.m. update: The Indiana Department of Transportation has reopened both southbound lanes of Interstate 65 after pavement repairs were made at the site of Wednesday’s chemical fire that resulted from a three-truck crash at mile marker 43.
Initially, a full closure was required on I-65 in both directions in the aftermath of what had been a secondary crash near Uniontown in southeast Jackson County at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Northbound lanes reopened, but area residents were advised to leave their homes over concerns about possible toxic smoke from the combined chemical fire. The fire was extinguished and vehicles and debris were removed.
Around 9 p.m. Wednesday, INDOT crews opened both southbound lanes of I-65 after milling away surface pavement damaged by the chemical fire.
At midday today, a Clarksville paving contractor placed hot-mix asphalt pavement — first in the damaged left lane, then the right lane — to achieve a permanent patch and smoother driving conditions for the motoring public.
3:50 p.m. update: The Indiana Department of Transportation said the left lane of southbound Interstate 65 at the 43-mile-marker north of Uniontown is now open. The right lane should reopen around 5 p.m.
2:14 p.m. update: Due to ongoing road construction on I-65 near the 43-mile-marker, southbound traffic is backed up near the 48-mile-marker, Sgt. Stephen Wheeles is reporting. Troopers are also working a crash that occurred in the backup. Please watch for slowdowns south of Seymour and expect delays. U.S. 31 is an alternative to avoid the area.
10:06 a.m. update: Indiana Department of Transportation crews are currently in the process of closing the left lane of southbound Interstate 65 at the 43-mile-marker south of Seymour in preparation for pavement repairs at Wednesday’s crash site chemical fire.

Within the hour, a construction contractor is expected to be onsite over-paving the damaged roadway with hot-mix asphalt.

Once the southbound left lane is repaired, operations will move to I-65’s right lane.

INDOT officials say operations to make permanent hot-mix asphalt repairs will continue through late afternoon.

Yesterday morning’s 3-truck crash on I-65 near Uniontown at 4:30 a.m. resulted in a chemical fire that shut down southbound I-65 until 9:30 p.m. last night.  INDOT crews removed damaged surface pavement from both lanes, milling the roadbed before the interstate to southbound traffic.

7:51 p.m. update: All lanes are open, but the southbound lanes have a rough surface. Authorities are urging motorists to slow down.

The southbound lanes of the interstate reopened shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday once Indiana Department of Transportation workers made temporary repairs. A permanent fix will have to be made, police said.

Police have released some details about the substances that the semitrailer that caught on fire was carrying. It was a mix of hazardous chemicals including two corrosive liquids, a caustic acid, a non-flammable gas and an oxidizing solid, police report.

Police have also released details of the crash:

The fire occurred more than six hours after the crash, reported at 4:37 a.m. That crash began when the driver of a 2017 Freightliner, Uche J. Okpeh, 30, of Jacksonville, Florida, drove into the rear of a 2012 Freightliner driven by Vitali Kriuchko, 34, of Orlando, Florida, according to a report from Trooper Korry Clark.

The impact of that collision pushed Kriuchko’s truck into the back of a third semitrailer driven by Bobby L. Brand, 46, of Gadsden, Alabama. Kriuchko’s and Brand’s semitrailer had been slowed with other traffic because of a wreck earlier in the morning that left a semitrailer on its side on the shoulder. They were removed from the scene before the fire broke out.

None of the drivers were injured in either wreck, but a passenger in Okpeh’s Covenant Transport truck, Senesie Kuyateh, 39, of Jacksonville, Florida, sustained non life-threatening injuries. He was treated by Jackson County Emergency Medical Services personnel and taken to Scott Memorial Hospital in Scottsburg.

7:40 a.m. update: All lanes are open, but the southbound lanes have a rough surface. Authorities are urging motorists to slow down.

Here’s what happened Wednesday during a chaotic day on the interstate —

A large plume of black smoke towered in the sky above Interstate 65 south of Seymour on Wednesday as flames from a burning semitrailer carrying volatile chemicals led to evacuations and inconveniences for motorists.

The voluntary evacuations were prompted by concerns burning liquid chemicals might cause respiratory problems for those living in nearby homes following a wreck involving three semitrailers near the 43-mile-marker.

That wreck was reported at 4:37 a.m. Wednesday, and first responders, including police, firefighters, cleanup crews and others, were on the scene for the better part of the day.

One non-life-threatening injury was reported in the crash, said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, public information officer for the Indiana State Police Versailles Post.

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The wreck began when the semitrailer that later caught fire rear-ended two others that were stopped because of an earlier wreck, he said.

The first wreck, reported at 2:17 a.m. at the 41½-mile-marker near Uniontown, involved a semitrailer on its side on the right shoulder by trees. The driver in that wreck was not injured, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Carothers said.

No information about the drivers in either wreck, the companies they worked for and the chemicals being carried in the semitrailer that burned was available at press time, Wheeles said.

The injured person was a passenger in the semitrailer that caught fire. The man was treated by Jackson Emergency Medical Services personnel at the scene and taken to Scott Memorial Hospital in Scottsburg for treatment.

Southbound traffic initially was diverted to U.S. 31 from U.S. 50 in Seymour to State Road 250 in Uniontown while two of the semitrailers were being hauled away.

The situation took a turn for the worse when cleanup crews with Midwest Environmental Services of Brownstown realized chemicals in the third semitrailer could pose a threat, Wheeles said.

[embeddoc url=”https://tribtown.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2018/01/20180111st-semitruck-fire-expanded-copy.pdf” download=”all”]“Any time there are chemicals that are a hazard, it’s a real concern for us,” he said.

The semitrailer caught fire not long after crews had backed away from the third semitrailer, Wheeles said.

Duane Davis, director of the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said the fire started as crews were clearing out the truck.

“There were leaking chemicals, and a plume started,” he said. “I don’t know what sparked it.”

At that point, the Indiana State Police and Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office ordered the voluntary evacuation within a half-mile of the crash scene.

Smoke from the fire also led to the closure of the northbound lanes, leaving the interstate abandoned and forcing motorists to find alternative routes. A portion of Frontage Road on the east side of the interstate near the crash scene also was closed to keep motorists away from a potentially hazardous situation, police said.

Davis said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requested no water be used on the fire because of the potential for runoff and a nearby horse farm. That led to the decision to let it burn itself out, he said.

Davis said besides Swifty Farms, located on the west side of the interstate, there are about 25 residences officials visited to notify people about the voluntary evacuations. Others in that area were notified through the county’s mass notification system.

“There weren’t many people at home,” he said. “Some expressed their appreciation for letting them know.”

Residents were allowed to return home shortly after 3 p.m.

Davis said smoke from the fire has been monitored and evaluated by officials with the state fire marshal’s office, who told him no harmful chemicals or byproducts were found.

He said he expected the fire to burn for several more hours.

Wheeles said the southbound right lane and shoulder are not passable because of the fire, and Indiana Department of Transportation officials will have to evaluate the condition of the road after crews clean it up.

The investigation is ongoing.

Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene and was assisted by firefighters from several departments. Columbus Fire Department’s hazardous materials team also assisted at the scene.

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