FREDERICK, MD – At noon Saturday, a tanker carrying flammable fuel veered off U.S. 15, struck a tree and exploded sending a fireball and dark smoke into the air.
Flames ignited a nearby house and brush while burning fuel flowed into drainage ditches and culverts.
The truck driver perished in the fiery crash that remains under investigation by Maryland State Police.
Tasked with three specific incidents, fire officers quickly divided the operation. Frederick County Battalion Chief Rusty Hahn took the U.S. 15/tanker command, while United Fire Chief Jerry Dorsey had Rosemont Avenue/burning fuel command and United Deputy Chief Marc McNeal assumed Apple Avenue/house fire command.
Hahn quickly called for a second alarm as well as specific resources due to the magnitude of the incident. Extra foam was going to be needed.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Burning fuel was running down the street into drains and culverts. It was setting grass, trees and brush on fire,” Dorsey said adding that the entire cloverleaf was ablaze.
Firefighters and hazmat crews managed to contain the fuel from entering nearby Carroll Creek as well as the city’s sanitary sewage system.
Dorsey said things may not have gone that smoothly had the incident occurred during the week when the majority of the volunteers are not available.
“Several stations emptied their houses,” he said. “We had a lot of people and everyone worked well together…Each division had its own channel and that worked well.”
Firefighters from nearby counties as well as Virginia, Fort Detrick and Camp David responded to assist. Foam used to quell the flames was environmentally friendly and did not contain PFAS, linked to cancer, Frederick County Fire Chief Tom Coe said.
United Fire Co. Deputy Chief McNeal, who led the house fire command, said things could have been worse had the rig not hit one of the trees just off the highway.
“It would have directly hit one or two of the houses on Apple Avenue. We were fortunate it hit the tree.”
A single-story house on Apple Avenue that runs parallel to the northbound lanes of the highway was destroyed by the fire. Three residents escaped without injury.
Nearby houses sustained heat damage and the fence around another melted. Three vehicles also were destroyed.
He agreed having each command on their own channel helped immensely as the crews had different operations to handle.
Independent Hose Co. Chief Brian Grossnickle said firefighters were doing what needed to be done to control the incident.
“There were some extraordinary acts of good decision-making,” he said.
He and his engine crew assisted with brush fires ignited by the flaming fuel.
Firefighters remained at the scene for several hours to assist investigators.