Smith River lumber spill: It could've been worse

By Emily Jo Cureton, The Triplicate March 03, 2014 06:02 pm

Truck driver Jeffrey Stewart picks up some of the lumber that spilled when his semi rolled on U.S. Highway 101 on Thursday.
Truck driver Jeffrey Stewart picks up some of the lumber that spilled when his semi rolled on U.S. Highway 101 on Thursday. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
A loaded semi-truck flipped on U.S. Highway 197 on Thursday afternoon, sending 34,000 pounds of wood products careening across the road, down an embankment and into the Smith River.

The wreck closed the highway, also known as North Bank Road, to traffic for more than six hours, and cleanup efforts were continuing Friday afternoon. 

No injuries were reported and no other vehicles were involved, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Ten gallons of hydraulic fluid and 10 gallons of diesel fuel were spilled on the roadway, a fraction of what the rig was carrying. 

“The truck had two 100-gallon side tanks that were full, but strangely they did not rupture and there was just a small leak,” said CHP Officer Seth Jennings, one of the first responders to the scene. “Fire crews came in and were able to make sure nothing else spilled out of it while they did the recovery. If the tanks had ruptured then there would have been a lot of fuel and undoubtedly it would have been a much worse clean-up,”   

The wreck closed Highway 197 for more than six hours about a mile east of U.S. Highway 101.
The wreck closed Highway 197 for more than six hours about a mile east of U.S. Highway 101. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The truck was driven by Jeffrey Stewart, 45, for Hilton Truck and Supply Company of Central Point, Ore. 

The load of laminate wood products originated at Pacific Wood Laminates in Brookings and was headed for Phoenix, Ariz., authorities said. 

Within minutes of the accident, which left his rig in sideways shambles, Stewart was collecting debris and moving it off the roadway, according to eyewitness accounts.

Within an hour, some people boated over to the mess from across the river, attempting to stake a claim.

“Some people went out here and thought it was free wood because it was close to the water and in the water,” Jennings said. 

Authorities expect cleanup to be completed on Saturday without further road closures.

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