A multivehicle accident involving a fuel tanker caused several explosions and shut down I-15 in both directions Thursday morning.
One person was reported killed.The Utah Department of Transportation, meanwhile, was telling motorists to expect the interstate to remain closed in both directions - from the I-215 south junction to 11800 South - through the evening commute.
Law officers were still trying to determine the exact cause of the 8 a.m. accident at press time, but it appeared the collision may have been caused by an impatient driver, said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Verdi White II.
Northbound traffic was apparently heavy near 9000 South when a vehicle attempted to pass others exiting the 9000 South offramp. The passing car forced the driver of a dump truck to hit his brakes. The dump truck was then rear-ended by a second dump truck, which was subsequently rear-ended by the fuel tanker.
At least two other small vehicles and possibly three were involved in the collision. Officials were not speculating on the fate of the missing driver. The wreckage was extensive and more investigation was needed. The accident sent fuel spilling onto I-15, causing a series of explosions.
"I didn't hear an initial explosion, I just saw flames and some smoke," said Golden Wassmer, an employee of nearby D&A Bowles Plumbing. "Then there was about 15 to 18 subsequent explosions."
Karen Provstgaard of Sandy said she'd driven about a half-mile after entering the freeway at 90th South when she saw the flames about 10 cars ahead.
"I was driving and I could see dust and gravel and then there was the explosion," she said. "It looked like the whole freeway was on fire."
UDOT officials said they expected both sides of the freeway to be closed through the evening commute, although efforts would be made to reopen it as soon as possible.
Mark Fredrickson, a UDOT spokesman, said emergency vehicles were able to access the accident site fairly quickly despite its location in the middle of the I-15 reconstruction zone.
By 9 a.m., police were evacuating businesses within a two-block radius of the accident site.
Employees at Sprinkler World, 8451 S. Sandy Parkway, were among those told to leave the area.
"They say right now the reason they want to evacuate is there's a full tanker right close to that (accident site) and they're afraid of what might happen if that goes," John Miller, a Sprinkler World sales representative, said just before leaving the building at 9:05 a.m.
The business is located about 200 yards from where the tanker exploded.
"We heard a bunch of explosions one right after the other," Miller said. "We were joking about it. My manager said it was a nuclear explosion or something. Then I turned around and looked out the window and it was like, `Holy cow!'
"It looked like there was fire on both sides of the freeway. Some smoke was coming right into us."
Wasatch Constructors, the I-15 reconstruction contractor, sent in several pieces of heavy equipment to remove the concrete barriers separating the northbound and southbound lanes through the construction zone. That allowed trapped vehicles to turn around and exit the freeway.
Wasatch also had about 50 workers on site helping to clean up the mess.
"We have water trucks on hand to recharge the fire trucks," Wasatch spokesman Brian Mauldwin said. "We have crews that are protecting the drain inlets, using various methods so that the fuel doesn't go into the drain inlets."
Wasatch brought in sand bags, hay bales and backhoes to form emergency barriers to prevent the fuel from escaping the site. Absorbent material pads also were used to soak up the gasoline.
No Wasatch workers were injured, although several were working just west of the site when the accident occurred.
Jordan School District spokeswoman Melinda Rock said no schools had to be evacuated, although many school buses were trapped in the traffic snarl caused by the explosion.