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Semi with burning load escorted 30 miles to White City

Fire crews escorted a semi pulling a trailer full of burning wood chips roughly 30 miles to White City so they could safely unload its cargo early this morning.

The RB Browns semi-truck caught fire at about 4 a.m. on northbound Interstate 5 at milepost 60, just before the Merlin exit. The truck was headed to Toledo, according to Rural Metro Fire Operations Chief Austin Prince.

Rural Metro Fire and Grants Pass Fire crews doused the wood chips with water but believed the only way to ensure the fire was out was to unload the cargo.

"The fire was actually in the chip load," Prince said.

On the ground, accessing the wood chips from a trailer designed to be emptied from the top proved to be a challenge. The cargo is unloaded by using machinery to tip the entire trailer in the air, Prince said. 

The closest area that could unload such a trailer was in White City.

The fire hadn't affected the truck's drive train or the trailer wheels, so crews doused the cargo with water from a hole cut in the side of the trailer.

Rural Metro Fire escorted the truck along I-5 southbound to exit 35, where they handed the truck off to Jackson County Fire District 3 to complete the escort to a White City trucking yard. Crews observed the trailer for embers and smoke until the truck arrived successfully at 6:24 a.m.

"It was kind of a coordinated effort, if you will," Prince said.

The fire was caused by a trailer tire that wore a hole into the wood decking on the truck's trailer bed. Friction from the tire caused the wood chips inside to ignite, Prince said.

The bulk of the load was saved, according to Travis Anderson with RB Browns Trucking, who described the fire departments' response as "very, very rare."

Prince said the fire was an "absolute contrast" to a banana truck fire Wednesday near Ashland, in which overheated brakes lit a blaze that destroyed a trailer and caused delays to northbound Interstate 5 for almost three hours.

"All fires start small, but sometimes we get them put out quick," Prince said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.