A tanker truck that crashed on a hairpin turn on Loveland Pass Saturday night dumped at least 4,000 gallons of gasoline on Highway 6 above Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, closing the road and potentially causing serious environmental damage, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue officials said Sunday.
“It’s bad,” LDFR spokesman Steve Lipsher said. “There is a lot of fuel spilled and certainly the environmental repercussions could be long lasting.”
The truck, a Solar Transportation vehicle that was hauling diesel and unleaded fuel into Summit County, tipped over, rolled onto its right side at approximately 8:15 p.m. Saturday as it rounded a switchback and ruptured, sending a cascade of unleaded gasoline down Highway 6 that officials said was 3 or 4 inches deep in places.
The spill did not spark a fire.
The driver of the truck, 38-year-old Michael Johnson of Thornton, suffered minor injuries.
Local and state hazardous materials teams joined LDFR and Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District firefighters at the scene and worked through the night.
Hwy. 6 was reopened to traffic at 9 a.m. Sunday and clean-up efforts have been turned over to a private environmental clean-up company.
Gasoline has the potential to disintegrate asphalt, but it does not appear there was any lasting damage to Hwy. 6 from the spill, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials said.
But it’s still unclear what the ultimate impacts to the environment in the area will be. Firefighters attempted to contain the fuel first by plugging the holes in the tanker and, when that was unsuccessful, by building retention ponds at the bottom of the hill, Lipsher said. Despite their efforts, they are concerned that much of the fuel may have soaked into the soil.
“Fuel that’s seeped into the soil is very difficult to clean out without removing the soil,” Lipsher said. “It’s going to require monitoring, I’m sure, for a long time in terms of ensuring that fuel isn’t reaching the Snake River.”
CDOT officials said crews may be continuing to work on clean up and containment on the shoulders along Hwy. 6.
“The first priority always is, obviously, to secure the site and get the road open,” CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said. “Then they can do whatever clean-up operations they need.”
The truck was prevented from going over a steep cliff on one side of Hwy. 6 by jersey barriers installed after a prior accident in which a large diesel truck crashed in the same area.
“I was told that those served their purpose perfectly,” Lipsher said.
Johnson, who reportedly lost control, was cited for careless driving, according to a statement from Colorado State Patrol.