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Hot Shots: Mudslides, floods, wildfires and more

Highlighting images in transportation, trucking and weather

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Every Friday, FreightWaves takes a look at the past week or so in social media, highlighting trucking, transportation and weather. This week features a Colorado highway washed out by a major mudslide, a trucker who misjudged floodwaters, a wildfire that leveled a California town and more.

Mudslide mayhem

Late last week, multiple rounds of heavy rain drenched western Colorado. Major damage hit Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Canyon the hardest as mudslides ensued, washing out portions of Interstate 70. This area is about 125 miles west of Denver.

Related: Severe mudslides trigger I-70 closure in Colorado

Sections of the highway have been closed for several days, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said at a Monday news conference that it could be a few weeks before they’re reopened. I-70 is an important route for truckers heading to busy Southern California freight markets. For now, drivers will have to take Interstate 80 westbound through Wyoming to Interstate 15 southbound in Salt Lake City, or Interstate 25 southbound from Denver to Interstate 40 westbound in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Trucker troubles

Monsoonal rain was too much for one trucker to handle. The downpours produced flash flooding late last week on U.S. Highway 95 north of Yuma, Arizona. Unfortunately, the tanker driver misjudged the depth of the floodwater as well as the edge of the road.

While the driver was trying to make it through the flooded area, the tanker flipped as surprised bystanders watched. By all accounts, the driver was able to escape the cab and wasn’t badly hurt. However, it proves that the National Weather Service slogan “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” is good advice.

Out of control

The Dixie fire in Northern California has gotten tens of thousands of acres bigger this week. The fire has been burning for about three and half weeks. It was the second-largest wildfire in the country as of Friday morning, covering more than 322,000 acres (I’ll update this Friday morning). Despite firefighters’ best efforts to contain it, the blaze has spread out of control due to gusty winds and very dry air this week. 

The fire has virtually destroyed the small town of Greenville, about 110 miles north of Sacramento. The fire is threatening many nearby communities, and thousands of people have evacuated. While winds may die down Friday, no meaningful rain is in the forecast over the next week for areas of the West and Northwest where dozens of other large wildfires have scorched almost 2 million acres.

Firetrucks times 60

BNSF Railway (NYSE: BRK.A) has been working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to help contain the Dixie fire. The company has been using one of its fire trains to protect its rail network from potential damage. BNSF fire trains operate across much of the West, where drought conditions and high winds are common. To combat wildfires, it has tank cars full of water staged in areas prone to fire conditions. 

When the call is made, there are a couple of access points where firefighters can get on each fire train, with BNSF crews moving the train to the fires. The caboose acts as a transport for the firefighters. Then, once at the site, firefighters use hoses and fire cannons to shoot water, able to reach flames up to 30 feet away. In addition to getting crews to places firetrucks can’t access and where no water sources exist, the fire trains contain significantly more water than a firetruck. A truck averages 500 gallons of water, whereas the train’s tanks carry 30,000.

Back in business

After almost three months, the Interstate 40 bridge across the Mississippi River is back open. The bridge, also known as the Hernando de Soto bridge, connects Memphis, Tennessee, with eastern Arkansas, and it’s a crucial trucking route for the Mid-South region. Transportation officials shut it down on May 11 due to an emergency structural issue, costing the trucking industry as a whole as much $2 million a day at one point.

Related: ‘Full-court press’: Trucking industry relieved I-40 bridge repairs almost done

The repairs were challenging for everyone involved, from contractors to engineers to state transportation executives. Nothing this serious had ever happened to the 50-year-old bridge, and its age added a layer of difficulty. However, workers rolled up their sleeves and got the job done quicker than many people expected.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.