The quick actions of Mathoura Rural Fire Service brigade saved a petrol tanker carrying 36,000 litres of fuel from exploding after it caught fire north of the town on Thursday morning.
The Toll truck was driving along the Cobb Hwy towards Deniliquin, about 4km north of Mathoura, when the driver noticed the rear on fire about 5am.
Mid-Murray Rural Fire Service Superintendent Tony Whitehorn said when Mathoura RFS arrived on the scene, firefighters found the tanker — which was carrying 11,000 litres of unleaded fuel and 25,000 of diesel — ablaze.
‘‘It started in the tri-axle of the fuel tanker.
‘‘The RFS crew, using breathing apparatus and foam, extinguished the fire without the fuel tanker erupting or exploding.
‘‘Within 10 minutes of arriving, the Mathoura crew had knocked the flames down and were cooling the fuel in the tanker.’’
Deniliquin Fire + Rescue NSW Captain Marty Smith said it was fortuitous that the fire originated under the tanker carrying diesel and not the unleaded, which has a lower flash point and ignites more easily.
But he said building pressure in the diesel tank posed its own risks.
The Cobb Highway was closed in both directions for almost 12 hours while authorities dealt with the incident, finally reopening at 4.30pm.
‘‘The diesel had heated up which caused pressure in the compartment cell and therefore a crack from which diesel was leaking,’’ Capt Smith said.
‘‘Our Hazmat team took the lead and with the help of a Murray River Council front end loader, material was brought in to create a bund and prevent seepage in to the local waterways.
‘‘A tanker and recovery crew was dispatched from Melbourne and decanted the fuel in to a standby tanker.
‘‘A salvage crew then came from Wagga and put the damaged tanker on to a flatbed.
‘‘We also had to work with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the soil that was contaminated. Again with assistance from the council, we removed the contaminated soil, and fresh material was put in to replace it.
‘‘Only after all that could, we reopen the highway.’’