A fast-acting employee, state troopers and firefighters prevented a catastrophe early Thursday when an excavation truck hauling thousands of pounds of explosives and chemicals caught fire at Loop 202 and Alma School Road in Mesa.
The truck, on its way to a West Valley job site, was carrying 22,050 pounds of ammonium nitrate — four times the amount used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
But that wasn’t all. It also had eight cases of dynamite, five cases of electrical blasting caps and 1,400 nonelectrical blasting caps — a dangerous combination.
“We would have had a lot of people lose their lives and the property damage would have been catastrophic,” said detective Tim Mason, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman.
AJ Andresen of J & D Excavators, a Mesa company, was following the company’s truck as it made its way along the freeway toward a work site at Interstate 17 and Happy Valley Road.
“All of sudden I saw flames coming off the top right of the truck,” Andresen said.
Andresen grabbed a fire extinguisher from the truck and with the help of the truck’s passenger and driver climbed on top of the tarpcovered load and sprayed downward.
He said it never really crossed his mind that he was averting a catastrophe.
“There was no huge flames, there was just small flames,” Andresen said.
Mason said 911 operators started getting calls about 4:30 a.m. about a truck on fire.
The flames were out by the time Mesa firefighters arrived, Andresen said.
The danger wasn’t over.
Mason said a DPS hazardous materials expert happened to be nearby, and he immediately determined a one-mile perimeter was necessary.
Loop 202 was shut down for two hours from Country Club Drive to Dobson Road, Mason said. In that time, officers and firefighters risked their lives as they removed the blasting caps from the truck.
DPS commercial vehicle inspectors determined the truck was in complete compliance with all federal regulations for transporting explosives.
“This is a prime example of why these precautions are taken,” Mason said.
Jack Dekker, J & D’s director of operations, said the fire was sparked by an interior light missing its safety cover.
Dekker said the problem wasn’t caught during a morning safety inspection, but it might have popped off during the drive.
“Everything happened for a reason and it wasn’t our time to go,” Dekker said.