An SAIA Ltd. Freight driver saw his tractor smoking and pulled into an empty area of Mullins Crossing shopping center by Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Evans.
Columbia County fire personnel responded and saw the emergency placards on the side of the smoking trailer, said Batt. Chief and Special Operations Officer Danny Kuhlmann said.
Upon checking the driver’s manifests, Kuhlmann said he learned the trailer was loaded with corrosive materials including wood preservatives, solvents and chlorine tablets.
“The driver said he thinks the load shifted, causing the containers to leak and set the fire,” Kuhlmann said.
Early reports indicate that chlorine combined with hydrochloric acid started the fire.
Emergency personnel closed off the west end of the parking lot and evacuated several stores, including Ross, Marshall’s, La-Z-Boy and PetCo, as a precaution in case the toxic smoke blew in the direction of shoppers.
“If you’re close and you inhale it, it could be dangerous,” Kuhlmann said.
The fire department’s Hazardous Materials Response Team and Columbia County crews worked to create dikes out of sand to contain any water contaminated when firefighters doused the blaze inside the trailer.
More than three hours after the fire started, firefighters in HazMat suits opened the trailer and the fire was extinguished. No one was injured. Kuhlmann said the company hired a crew to handle clean-up of the toxic chemicals.