Tanker crashes and burns near Gateway
Driver injured, then cited; creekbed in flames after wreck
A roughly half-mile stretch of West Creek, just north of Gateway, was in flames early Friday morning — with fire along both the steep creek sides and floating on the creek itself — after a tanker truck rolled down the steep embankment and punctured, spilling an estimated 8,000 gallons of fuel.
The accident happened just after 6 a.m., when the 2003 International tractor driven by Jacinto Renteria, 37, of Clifton, left an icy Colorado Highway 141 near mile marker 120, crashed through a guardrail and tumbled to the creek below. The truck was towing a tanker trailer containing 6,000 gallons of conventional fuel and 2,000 gallons of diesel that broke open on the rocky slope, authorities said.
Renteria suffered minor injuries and was taken to an area hospital by ambulance. He was cited for careless driving, according to the Colorado State Patrol.
Emergency responders — initially from the Gateway-Unaweep Volunteer Fire Department, but quickly followed by two engines and a hazardous materials unit of the Grand Junction Fire Department — arrived to find the section of creek in flames and fuel alight being carried downriver.
“It really escalated into a pretty big event, but they were able to control it pretty good,” said Mike Page, spokesman for the Grand Junction Fire Department.
Page said the hazardous materials team deployed booms to collect fuel from the creek, which even this time of year can run as deep as 10 feet. They used four sets of booms, starting at mile marker 116, but only collected fuel in the booms set up near mile marker 119.
“A lot of the fuel was taken care of in the fire,” Page said, adding there were flames along about a half-mile section of the creek.
He said the environmental impact from the spill has yet to be determined, though any response by the hazardous materials team automatically triggers a long process of official reporting to the agencies of record to gauge the exact damage done by the incident. That process is under way.
The incident roiled traffic along the highway, essentially the only road into or out of Gateway to the north. The Colorado Department of Transportation was forced to shut the road for a brief time to apply sand where fuel had spilled, but the road was reopened soon after to a limited degree to traffic in both directions.
Because of the travel impacts, School District 51 canceled all classes and activities at Gateway School for the day.
Other agencies that responded to the incident were CDOT, the State Patrol, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Lands End Fire Protection District.