I-71 NB near Walton reopens after daylong cleanup effort

WALTON, Ky. - When you’re driving on the interstate, you don’t want to be stuck behind a tractor-trailer carrying 44,000 pounds of powdered animal fat when it catches on fire.

Some motorists were stuck for hours Thursday on northbound Interstate 71 – just south of the I-71/I-75 split -  when the tantalizing load caught fire not just once, but twice!

And officials had to close down the highway for a third time Thursday night because the messy mixture of fat and water had covered the roadway.

The roadway eventually reopened at about 10:45 p.m.

The fire started about 9:30 a.m at the 75 mile marker. The driver was able to separate the cab from the trailer but suffered minor burns. He refused treatment, emergency officials said.

About 11 a.m., firefighters thought the blaze was out and officials began leading motorists through on one lane.

But the fire rekindled.

"You put water on it and it stirs up the powder. The dust being an animal fat byproduct, it flares up like that," explained Walton Fire Chief Tom Ollier.

The traffic might have even fanned the flames.

"Some smoldering and stuff like that, and disturbed it and it started back up again,” Ollier said.

Meanwhile, motorists cooled their heels. Eric Rich said he almost got through. But he guessed he had been stuck for four hours.

"I quit trying to keep count," Rich said.

Firefighters called on foam trucks from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to put out the blaze once and for all.

But that just made a bigger mess.

Shortly after reopening the highway about 8:30 p.m., officials had to close it again.

By then, though, David Hill of Alabama had probably driven away in his motorhome. While he was stranded behind the burning truck in the afternoon, Hill kindly opened his motorhome for people who needed to use the facilities.

“I’ve had some takers,” Hill said. “And I think there’s dozens more who should have taken me up on it.”

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