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September 22, 2012

Rig hauling molten sulfur catches fire, extinguished quickly

White Springs — Shortly after 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22, just as folks were leaving the White Springs Community Center on US 41 (Roberts Street) after a President's Volunteer Service Awards Ceremony, a tractor trailer rig hauling molten sulfur passed by with flames shooting out from underneath the back end of the cab, according to “Teddy Bear” Marshall, who saw the semi's flaming tire as it passed by where he was standing on the sidewalk.

The driver managed to safely pull the rig over to the side of the road at Jewett Street, just a couple blocks from the community center, as flames continued to shoot out from underneath the rig and dark black smoke from the burning tire billowed up into the sky. The smell of burning rubber was noxious as it settled over the area.

Berry Raulerson from White Springs Police Department was first on the scene and when he saw the flaming truck he stopped and turned around so he could go get the fire truck, since he is also a member of the White Springs Volunteer Fire Department. He quickly discovered, however, that the payload was molten sulfur and he returned to the scene after summoning his comrades from the fire department.

Had it been petroleum or another flammable liquid, the situation could have been much worse, said WSPD Chief Ken Brookins, who was also at the scene.

White Springs Volunteer Fire Department, who had just been honored at the awards ceremony, arrived immediately and had the fire out and under control in about 30 minutes. Units from Columbia and Hamilton county arrived shortly thereafter.

Residents had been gathering around to watch and some were even standing in the roadway diverting traffic away from the area. No nearby homes or structures were damaged or were in danger during the incident.

Resident Annie Pinello, who was at the scene, explained that molten sulfur needs a direct flame to ignite and that it won't ignite just from the heat.

Officer Raulerson said, “If it's molten sulfur, water will make it a hard solid, which is the best thing for it,” and that was a good thing since he was the one spraying the truck with water from the fire hose.

The driver, Raulerson said, told him the front tank on the rig was empty and it wasn't pressurized.

What Raulerson was worried about was the truck's gas tank.

“It was burning two foot from that gas tank,” he said.

When he touched it, though, he said it wasn't even hot.

Mike Williams from PCS Phosphate White Springs was also on the scene helping in any way he could.

Chief Brookins suggested that it was probably a wheel bearing that failed and started the tire on fire.

“I've seen it happen many times,” he said.

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