Imagine you are behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler on a state highway early in the morning. The sky is beginning to lighten with dawn, traffic is light and you are making good progress.
Suddenly, you hear a “POP!” noise and realize one of your tractor drive tires on the passenger side has exploded. Soon, dark black smoke is billowing forth, even as you wrestle your rig to the shoulder and bring it shuddering to a stop. By now more “POP!”s have been heard, there are more flats and lots and lots of black smoke is pouring from your truck.
You quickly jump out, locate and prepare your fire extinguisher for use. As you round the hood of your truck you see the left side is engulfed in flame, the smoke and fire pulsing up to the trailer located just over your drive tires and the reefer at the very front, sucking in that smoke.
The glow is what you notice next. One of the wheel hubs on that side is glowing red it is so hot. It must have leaked out the oil inside and the heat and pressure kept building and building until eventually it burst the tire around it and caught fire. Quickly, you bring the fire extinguisher to bear, but it really isn’t a fair match. The hub is at possibly 800-1000 degrees and you have a chemical extinguisher that won’t cool it down a bit. Since you can’t deprive it of oxygen, as soon as you blast away the flames and smother the fire it immediately relights and your expensive vehicle continues to burn.
Meanwhile, inside the reefer just above is 44,500 pounds of frozen foods destined for America’s grocery stores. The front end of the reefer is charred and the reefer unit finally fails when the fuel line is burned in two, cauterized neatly. The lines providing air and electricity to the trailer a shriveled husks now, the connections burnt in place along the leading edge of the trailer. It really doesn’t matter that there is no more air being supplied to those connections, as the lines carrying it back to the brakes and suspension at the rear have been burned away as well.
An off-duty firefighter happens upon you and his fire extinguisher drives the flames back for a short time, but it too is unable to stop the damned hub from igniting seconds later. Eventually, the fire department arrives and spends fifteen or twenty minutes pouring water on the hot spots. They become unable to sustain ignition and the fire is out, though the smoke from the charred corpse of the tractor and trailer remain.
Thankfully, none of this happened to me.
When I came on duty this morning I was first told one of our trucks had a fire near Carthage, Missouri and needed someone to repower the load. I said sure, and was given the name and number for the driver and I got directions to the towing company that was handling the mess. About twenty minutes after I arrived his tractor and the trailer were brought in, at which time I found out it was something more than what I had expected — I thought it was an engine fire, probably — and this was going to take a while.
The first repair priority was the reefer unit, as the product inside the trailer must remain frozen. Surprisingly, the engine came away mostly unscathed and the problem was confined to running a new fuel line back to the reefer fuel tank. Once it was primed, it coughed back to life and informed the mechanic that the temp was just below freezing, up from -10 or so that it was set to. It immediately went into full cooling mode and the temperatures inside began to drop.
That being taken care of, the next step was to repair the air lines and electrical connection. During this process it became clear that the main wiring harness had been melted during the blaze, leaving a mass of copper wires living together in something akin to a Philadelphia tenement. Incredibly, the lights and blinkers worked but the wiring would have to be pulled out and replaced to make the trailer road worthy.
A few other items needed fixing, and it took a long time waiting, but this evening I was told all was in readiness and I can take the trailer down to Arkansas tomorrow morning to its destination.
As if in sympathy for the reefer, my own auxiliary power unit decided to conk out this evening. There happens to be a repair facility where I’m headed tomorrow so hopefully I can get it taken care of there.