The driver of a fertilizer truck 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.
Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Melody Daniel confirmed the fatality and said three firefighters were also injured from the blast, which happened about 6:45 a.m. after the truck flipped on U.S. 278 near Arkansas 57.
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 before it exploded, according to State Police.
The body was sent to the state Crime Laboratory to confirm the identity.
Daniel said officials haven’t determined what caused the tires to catch fire. The 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.
“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 the fire at the scene has been largely extinguished. Emergency responders who withdrew to roughly a mile away after confirming nearby homes and other structures were evacuated have since returned to clearing the scene, he said.
Camden Fire Department Assistant Chief Ron Nash said the tops of the surrounding pine trees were torn bare from the force of the blast. He said the concussion also took out the windshield of a fire truck and a Camden Fairview School District bus.
The bus driver was attempting to turn the vehicle around when the explosion occurred, district Superintendent Mark Keith said. No children were aboard, 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.
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