UPDATE: Truck driver Steve Etherton was whiling away his Tuesday evening, looking at trail cameras on his phone, scouting for deer to hunt back home, when someone knocked on the door of his semi.
'“He said ‘Your truck’s on fire.’ ” said Etherton, 75, of South Coffeyville, OK, just south of Coffeyville in extreme southeast Kansas.
He hopped out of the 2023 Kenworth tractor. The big diesel machine, with a mere 54,000 miles on its odometer, was quickly engulfed in flames and was eventually reduced mostly to ashes.
“We have no idea what started it,” said Kirk Stover, battalion chief for the Salina Fire Department, which brought three fire engines to the Petro Travel Center, a truck stop at the Ninth Street interchange of Interstate Highway 70.
Firefighters and other first responders were on the scene within 10 minutes — 9:30 pm — and the blaze, fueled by some 120 gallons of diesel fuel, was under control before 10 pm.
“It burned for awhile, then went boom,” Etherton said.
The explosion was reportedly heard more than a mile away.
“He was blessed,” said an onlooker.
While the rubble was being doused with water, Etherton was on the phone with his wife, Lori, and the trucking company that owns the equipment. The trailer the truck was pulling, loaded with roughly 20 electric capacitors, appeared unscathed, but he was unsure if the freight, or the trailer, were harmed. Everything else, including much of Etherton’s belongings, perished in the inferno.
But the driver was visibly relieved, and thankful, agreeing that his neighbor for the night, Sukh Dhillon, from Canada, saved his life.
Etherton was unaware he was in danger.
“I’m watching a movie, and I saw the fire,” Dhillon said.
After helping Etherton, Dhillon quickly moved the truck he was in, hooked to an empty trailer, away from the fire.
Firefighters were concerned about the hazardous diesel fuel that flowed free of the flames. After contacting the city utilities, they determined there was no harm to the groundwater, Stover said.
Etherton, who borrowed a phone and headset from another truck driver to call his wife and others, spent the night in a nearby hotel.
Contacted by phone shortly after 11 pm, Lori Etherton said she was still in shock.
“I can’t get it out of my head,” she said. “I just thank God (Steve’s) OK.”
Written by Tim Unruh
ORIGINAL: On Tuesday, October 10 at 9:30 pm, SFD was sent to the 400 block of W Diamond Dr, for a vehicle fire. Reports indicated that a semi truck was fully engulfed when responders arrived on the scene. This is believed to be a fuel fire. Hazmat was responding to the scene. Salina311 will have more information as it becomes available.