The pungent odor of diesel fuel and burned rubber lingered near the Belair Road exit from Interstate 20, where a truck driver died Tuesday morning after his rig ran off the road.
Raundall A. White, 38, of Lithonia, Ga., was traveling west on I-20 when he apparently lost control of the truck shortly after 5 a.m.
"He ... just jerked right and went off the roadway," said Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Tim Perry.
The truck careened down the embankment, taking down pine trees, and burst into flames, Deputy Perry said.
"We thought it was an explosion," said Carol Weiss, whose home in Belglade subdivision backs up to the woods where Mr. White ran off the road. The noise aroused her from a deep sleep.
"Everyone heard it and came outside," Ms. Weiss said. One of her neighbors called 911.
Mr. White was a driver for Nema Trucking Co. of Decatur, Ga., authorities said. He was not hauling anything when he crashed.
The most probable cause of the fire was that the diesel tanks ruptured when the truck hit the trees, said Battalion Chief Ronald Davis of Martinez Fire Department.
Firefighters battled the blaze, which reached the treetops, for about 20 minutes, Deputy Perry said.
"All the black up there, that's how far the fire was reaching," said firefighter Mike Davis, pointing to pine trees scorched all the way to the top.
Mr. White's body was badly burned when it was discovered by rescue workers, said Columbia County Assistant Coroner Vernon Collins. Mr. White was declared dead at the scene at 6:35 a.m.
Crews worked until 3 p.m. to clear the wreck, said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. Several wreckers were needed to pull the wreckage onto a flatbed trailer to take it away. Workers will return today to continue clearing debris from the woods.
Staff Writer Jason B. Smith contributed to this article.