The fiery accident that tragically claimed the life of a 51-year-old and closed Highway 191 for several hours on Thursday has also caused an environmental catastrophe, which may take weeks to clean up.
Carbon County Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Jason Llewelyn reported that Law enforcement and emergency services personnel responded to the crude oil tanker accident near Milepost 256 on Highway 191 after receiving a distress call at approximately 1:50 p.m.
The driver, Bryan Ames, of Bluebell, Utah, was pronounced dead at the scene by authorities.
“We don’t have any idea what caused the wreck, and probably won’t know that for a few weeks,” Llewelyn said.
Llewelyn also said that he could only speculate on the time of the crash because the first drivers who came upon the scene had to drive down the canyon before they could get cell phone reception.
Initial reports indicate that the tanker, travelling southbound on Highway 191, rolled, spilling the load of crude oil and bursting into flames. Large smoke plumes were visible from the mouth of Indian Canyon.
Those plumes of smoke, together with the danger of explosions from the burning crude oil, kept the road closed to traffic for many hours.
“We had several explosions going on,” Llewelyn said. “Understand, there were [thousands of] gallons of crude oil that were on fire. So for the public’s safety, we restrict all vehicle traffic to emergency personnel.”
Utah Highway Patrol, Helper City Police, Price City Police, Carbon County Sheriff, Life Flight, Carbon County EMT and Carbon County HAZMAT personnel initially responded to the call.
As of Friday morning, personnel from the Utah Division of Environmental Quality, the Southeastern Utah Health Department and the Denver office of the Environmental Protection Agency had joined the investigation and cleanup.
As to the spill, Llewelyn said that although recent thunderstorms decreased the threat of a forest fire spreading from the burning wreckage, it complicated the spill into the river, spreading crude oil “about one mile downstream” from the site.
“Once the rain hit, it unfortunately made the spill a little bit worse,” Llewelyn said. “There was some oil that did get into the river, and clean-up crews are working on remediating that right now.”
Llewelyn said that public safety dispatch immediately notified downstream users, including the power plant and PRWID, of the oil spilled into the river, ensuring that no hazardous materials got into their systems.
EnviroCare has been contracted to handle the cleanup, which Llewelyn said could take anywhere from three-to-nine weeks. He encouraged drivers in the area to make their way through the canyon slowly to ensure the safety of the personnel working on the cleanup.
The investigation is still underway. We will bring you more information as it becomes available.