The driver of a truck hauling fertilizer chemicals was killed when the truck’s wheels caught fire and it exploded in southern Arkansas Wednesday morning, causing a boom that was heard for miles and prompting an evacuation of the surrounding area, authorities said.
Multiple state and local officials confirmed the fatality, as well as three firefighters injured from the blast, which happened about 6:45 a.m. after the truck flipped on U.S. 278 near Arkansas 57.
The Arkansas State Police identified the driver late Wednesday morning as 63-year-old Randall McDougal of El Dorado.
The agency said McDougal was hauling ammonium nitrate — a highly combustible chemical used in fertilizers — to Texarkana for Blann Tractor Company, a firm headquartered in Hampton.
McDougal called 911 after noticing smoke coming from the truck. He tried extinguishing the blaze himself, officials said.
Emergency responders evacuated homes in the area when the truck later exploded, killing the 63-year-old. Witnesses said they saw McDougal walk back to the truck at the time of the blast, according to state police.
The body was sent to the state Crime Laboratory to confirm the identity.
Melody Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said officials haven’t determined what caused the tires to catch fire.
Three injured firefighters were brought to the hospital for their injuries, and two were later released, she said.
Crews closed U.S. 278, and evacuated people within a roughly one-mile radius of the blast. The explosion created an enormous crater stretching across the road.
People reported hearing the boom from miles away, with the blast even registering as seismic activity.
“It looks like a bomb went off,” Camden Fire Chief Robert Medford said. “There’s a big hole in the ground on where the truck was at.”
Capt. Adam LaDuke with the Ouachita County sheriff’s office said crews extinguished most of the fire by mid-morning.
Emergency responders withdrew to roughly a mile away evacuate homes and other buildings to and later returned to clear the scene, he said.
Camden Fire Department Assistant Chief Ron Nash said the force of the blast tore the tops of the surrounding pine trees. He said the shockwaves shattered the windshield of a fire truck and a Camden Fairview School District bus.
The boom registered on the Arkansas Geological Survey’s system used to track earthquakes, showing a spike at a nearby recording station that tracks earthquakes.
“I would say, without looking at (the data), it’s most likely the blast,” said Assistant State Geologist Scott Ausbrooks, adding that it’s “not unusual” for large blasts to register as seismic activity.
A station at White Oaks Lake, about 12 miles north of the crash, recorded the spike.
The bus driver tried turning the vehicle around when the explosion happened, district Superintendent Mark Keith said. No children were on board, and the driver was uninjured.
County officials remained at the scene and were relaying information to the state Department of Emergency Management, Daniel said. Stephens Fire Department was also on the scene.
Officials haven’t noted any other injuries as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Read Thursday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more details.