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Explosive tanker fire shuts I-15 in Salt Lake County for hours

A semi with two tankers caught fire Thursday evening, shutting I-15 at 7200 South in both directions.
A semi with two tankers caught fire Thursday evening, shutting I-15 at 7200 South in both directions.
Courtesy of McKay Bates

MIDVALE – A brake problem likely ignited a diesel tanker fire that closed I-15 in both directions late Thursday, authorities said, sending flames several stories above the freeway.

Traffic was stopped in both directions on northern Utah's main north-south artery after the fire broke out about 7:30 p.m. near 7500 South.

Video courtesy of Kim McKellar Read more here:

There were no immediate reports of injuries. The semi's driver got out of his vehicle and wasn't harmed, the Utah Highway Patrol said. He was hauling two tankers carrying 9,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

The road was too hot for investigators to assess damage late Thursday, said Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason, though it appeared most of the fuel and fire was contained to the outside lane and road shoulder.

"We're getting control of the fire," Unified Fire Authority spokesman Eric Holmes said.

Holmes said more than 15 firefighting crews were helping, and no one had been injured.

The driver's name and employer were not immediately released.

Earlier in the night, the situation was "volatile," said UHP Sgt. Todd Royce. Side streets near the freeway also were closed as crews sought to haul out cars closest to the blaze. No buildings were threatened, the Unified Fire Authority said on Twitter.

Northbound lanes reopened late Thursday, but the Utah Department of Transportation warned southbound travelers to avoid the stretch of I-15 between 7200 South to 9000 South overnight.

Commuter and light-rail trains in the area were reversed, with buses transporting travelers to their stops.

Travelers who were stopped on the road reported hearing pops as more flames ripped into the air.

Rain Price, who was stuck in traffic a quarter-mile from the fire with his parents, estimated he saw flames explode 100 feet into the air and watched fuel spill onto the road.

"It's a parking lot here," Price said, saying his car had been stopped for over 45 minutes and vehicles around him were no longer idling. Drivers had stepped out of their cars and were taking pictures, he said.

Price was taking his parents to the airport to go to Disney World when traffic came to a stop.

Firefighting trucks from the Salt Lake City International Airport and National Guard were helping to douse the flames late into the night Thursday.

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was among those trapped on the road, passing the time by encouraging Twitter users to ask him anything.

Contributing: Nicole Vowell, Ashley Moser, Alex Cabrero