By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Freeway traffic was stalled for three hours Thursday afternoon when a truck and trailer hauling an estimated 22 tons of straw was destroyed by fire.
Firefighters from the Baker and Haines rural fire departments and the Oregon Department of Transportation worked to contain the blaze. It started about 12:05 p.m. just north of the Highway 203 interchange on Interstate 84.
George Elmer Woldstad, 69, of Nyssa was driving the truck east when he reportedly noticed something fall from his truck. When he pulled off the highway, he discovered flames coming up over the top of the truck.
Woldstad was unsuccessful in his attempt to disconnect the tractor and flatbed trailer because the straw broke loose and fell forward, according to Brad Payton of ODOT.
Woldstad told Oregon State Police that he suspected the fire was started from spontaneous combustion in the straw, Payton said. The truck was owned by Carl Youngstrom, 30, of Caldwell, Idaho.
The truck, trailer and straw all were destroyed. Three OSP officers responded to the scene. ODOT sent two water trucks along with engines from the two rural fire departments.
Don Tholen, Baker Rural training officer, estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of water was dumped on the blaze. About eight volunteers from his department worked at the scene for about four hours. Another four or five volunteers from the Haines department worked at the other end of the fire, Tholen said.
Traffic was diverted over Highway 30 at North Powder during the cleanup. Because there is no safe place to divert traffic, those who were caught between the 203 interchange and the rest area were forced to wait on the freeway for about three hours while the smoke cleared, Payton said.
Workers from Steve Rich Environmental Services pumped 65 gallons of water and diesel from the roadside, Payton said. The truck and trailer were salvaged Thursday night by Superior Towing and the straw was pushed off to the side of the highway by ODOT workers.
Payton praised the efforts of those involved in fighting the fire and working on the cleanup.
I thought they did a good job, he said. I apologize to people who had to wait in line for three hours, but sometimes thats what it takes. Its better than having somebody hurt.