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Oil tanker rolls, explodes in Willow Creek Canyon

A stream of water from a Helper fire truck aims into the inferno caused by ignited crude oil in Willow Creek Canyon Thursday afternoon.

By KEVIN SCANNELL
Sun Advocate reporter
JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate associate editor

Driver killed, crews work to contain crude oil spill

A Duchesne County man was killed Thursday when the tandem crude oil tanker he was driving through Willow Creek Canyon plunged down a steep embankment and exploded in flames.

According to Utah Highway Patrol officials, the southbound semi-truck, driven by Bryan Ames, 51, of Bluebell, went off the edge of U.S. 191 just after 1:45 p.m. Ames was reported dead at the scene.

Both lanes of U.S. Highway 191 were temporarily closed until Helper fire fighters could douse the flaming oil.

"The commercial truck was pulling two semi trailers full of crude oil and failed to negotiate a turn in the road," stated UHP officials. "The vehicle left the proper lane of travel, crossed the northbound lane and rolled down an embankment where it came to rest in the creek."

A large plume of black smoke could be seen from the junction of U.S. Highway 6 and U.S. 191 outside of Helper as the tanker's fuel burned for sometime.

Southeastern Utah District Health Department and area HAZMAT squad were called out due to the potential of crude oil leaking into the Willow Creek.

The crash site was about four miles from the Carbon Power Plant.

The spill posed no immediate threat to drinking water in the area because the confluence of Willow Creek and the Price River is well downstream of the culinary water treatment plants of both Price City and the Price River Water Improvement District. At about 11 p.m. Thursday, a crew from EnviroCare, a North Salt Lake hazardous materials control and mitigation firm, was on the scene.

They installed inflated booms across Willow Creek downstream from the spill. By late morning Friday, the crew had three of the tubes in place.

Workers were wading in the creek, netting globs of spilled oil. On the stream bank, white plastic bags filled with removed crude were waiting for pickup. Over the weekend, about 30 workers were scheduled to clean up the gobs of oil from the rocks and plants along the creek, according to EnviroCare's chief operating officer John Hart.

Hart said Friday he expected the remediation to be complicated by the geology and ecology of the narrow canyon. The banks are steep, there are numerous crevices in the rocks, undergrowth is thick and there are hazards of rock slides.

David Ariotti, district manager for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said Monday that cleanup work was progressing, but could not say definitely when it would be done. This is maily because of the difficult conditions mentioned by Hart.

The release of oil also looks greater than initially estimated. Crude oil, because it is unrefined, is a waxy substance that congeals and floats in cool water. It does not form a slick the way gasoline or diesel fuel might.




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