Log In

Reset Password

Tanker truck crash closes U.S. Highway 160 east of Durango for eight hours

Vehicle was hauling 7,900 gallons of liquefied natural gas, some of which spilled east of Elmore’s Corner
A tanker truck carrying 7,900 gallons of liquefied natural gas tipped over in the 31000 block of U.S. Highway 160 east of Elmore’s Corner on Monday. (Courtesy)

ELMORE’S CORNER – Emergency workers responded Monday to a tanker truck crash that was leaking fuel and closed the highway for more than eight hours 1.2 miles east of Elmore’s Corner.

The crash was reported shortly after 11 a.m. in the 31300 block of U.S. Highway 160 east of Durango. The highway remained closed in both directions until 7:25 p.m.

Traffic was rerouted along county roads 234 and 225A on the north side of the highway, according to La Plata County government.

Five homes in the immediate vicinity of the crash were evacuated, according to the county’s office of emergency management, but residents were allowed to return home as of 6 p.m.

The truck was carrying 7,900 gallons of liquefied natural gas, according to the fire department. It was not immediately known how much of the fuel escaped the tanker, but when the vehicle was righted about 5:20 p.m., officials said the tanker was about 10% to 20% full. Some of the gas was reportedly freezing on site, according to the county’s office of emergency management.

A hazardous materials crew from the Colorado State Patrol’s Alamosa Office worked Monday to right an overturned tanker carrying natural gas on U.S. Highway 160. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)
A hazardous materials crew from the Colorado State Patrol’s Alamosa Office worked Monday to right an overturned tanker carrying natural gas on U.S. Highway 160. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

The vehicle was traveling eastbound when it went off the right side of the road. The truck rolled onto its right side before coming to rest on its right side facing east, said Capt. Angela DeGuelle, with the Colorado State Patrol in Durango.

She was not immediately aware of what caused the crash. The driver was issued a citation, she said, but she didn’t immediately know what the citation was for.

A CSP hazardous material crew from Alamosa arrived about 2:40 p.m., said DFPD Chief Randy Black.

He said almost no fuel was escaping the truck as of 1:30 p.m., possibly for lack of pressure or because a pipe was frozen.

According to DFPD Fire Capt. Tom Walsh, natural gas was released via safety valves designed to stabilize the load in such events.

“All the safety measures that were on the truck worked appropriately,” he said.

The tank was still under the appropriate pressure, Walsh said, and so the CSP hazardous materials crew opted to right the vehicle, tow it to a secondary location and offload the gas there.

At 5:20 p.m., Bo Dean’s Towing and Repair used a crane and winch to right the vehicle.

Black said there were two other potential solutions under consideration. One involved transferring the remaining natural gas to a second, empty truck before moving the overturned vehicle. The other option would have involved flaring the gas and burning it, as some oil companies do at well pads where natural gas is produced as a byproduct.

Both solutions have been used in the region in the last several years, Black said.

U.S. Highway 160 was closed in both directions east of Elmore’s Corner for a fuel tanker that tipped and was reportedly leaking or venting liquid natural gas east of Durango. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Liquefied natural gas is natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state, about negative 260 degrees Fahrenheit for shipping purposes, according the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The volume of natural gas in its liquid state is about 600 times smaller than its volume in its gaseous state,” according to the agency. “This process makes it possible to transport natural gas to places pipelines do not reach.”

Dispatchers planned to send a reverse-911 call to residents in the immediate vicinity warning them of the danger, according to scanner reports. But the reverse-911 system was not working so deputies with the Sheriff’s Office went door-to-door advising residents of the danger.

Firefighters were initially told the crash sparked a grass fire, but first responders now believe there was no grass fire and it only appeared that way because of the leaking fuel, according to the office of emergency management.

Amelia Jackson, who lives near the crash site, said her neighbor reported seeing flames shortly after the crash but there were no flames visible as of 12:30 p.m.

A Colorado State Patrol hazmat crew had a tanker truck on its wheels by 5:20 p.m. Monday. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Kenna Patcheck, another resident who lives nearby, was not forced to evacuate but was advised that if she did leave she would be unable to return until the scene was secure.

The driver of the truck was taken to Mercy Hospital in stable condition.

The DFPD thanked participating agencies, including Durango Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, CSP hazmat team, Colorado Department of Transportation, Sheriff’s Office and the office of emergency management.

An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of fuel being transported based on incorrect initial reports.

Reader Comments