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Trash truck fire halts Monday commute on I-91

NORTHAMPTON — A trash truck traveling south on Interstate 91 in Northampton Monday morning burst into flames near Exit 19, forcing police to close the highway’s southbound lanes for most of the morning and snarling traffic on King and Bridge streets as drivers navigated through the city.

The fire started before 8:30 a.m. when the driver of an Allied Waste Services garbage truck pulled over next to a guardrail on a stretch of I-91 that passes over Old Ferry Road overlooking the Three County Fairgrounds. Police said the driver was able to get out of the vehicle uninjured.

Firefighters from the Northampton Fire Department put out the flames, which had engulfed the back of the truck where the trash was stored, not long after arriving on scene.

Deputy Fire Chief Timothy McQueston said three engines responded to the scene and used hydrants at the fairgrounds, spending about an hour getting the fire under control. The truck was valued at $56,000 and is considered a total loss.

Trash had to be removed from the compactor to make sure the fire was entirely extinguished. This required assistance to lift the rear gate before hosing all the trash down, McQueston said.

“It was a lot of manual labor and ingenuity to get access to the trash,” McQueston said.

Firefighters remained while a crane from Red’s Towing lifted the back end of the vehicle so a small bulldozer could remove the burned debris and transfer it to another vehicle. Red’s also was able to get tires onto the right side of the damaged truck, and moved the vehicle to the state’s Department of Transportation grounds on Mount Tom Road. Firefighters stayed to ensure that the trash did not reignite.

McQueston said trash fires are notoriously dangerous because improperly disposed materials could be in the truck. “Caution is the key word here,” McQueston said.

McQueston said the response took “phenomenal” cooperation from all agencies involved.

The rear right side of the truck had gaping holes where the metal wall melted.

State police diverted southbound traffic on I-91 at Exit 20, causing backups along King Street through the center of Northampton.

Police also closed the interstate entrance at Exit 19 on Bridge Street and directed traffic that intended to travel south on I-91 into Northampton and south on Pleasant Street to the Exit 18 on-ramp.

At about 12:30 p.m., police opened the passing lane of Interstate 91 southbound, but kept the travel lane blocked off as work continued to clean up the accident, Trooper Thomas Murphy said. The travel lane re-opened later in the afternoon.

“It took a considerable amount of time,” Murphy said. “It’s not like a typical car fire where you can tow the car away.”

Several explosions were heard at the time of the initial fire, according to the website Fireground 360. McQueston said the explosions were the truck’s tires blowing out.

The cause remains undetermined. “It appears to be an issue with the truck chassis, not with the trash,” McQueston said.

There was also some damage to the guardrail on the bridge.

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