Quick-thinking trucker keeps national artery open

A lorry driver has been praised by the emergency services in Athlone for averting a potential disaster when he steered a burning lorryload of oil and alcohol off the M6 onto a minor road in the early hours of Friday morning.

“Fair play to him. He came off [at junction 8] and went down the slip [to the Creggan roundabout] on his own before unhitching the trailer,” said a spokesman for the Fire Service.

The articulated lorry belonged to Harty International Transport of Tuam, Co Galway, and was driven by a 10-year veteran of the company, Tom McDonagh who was bringing a mixed load of steel, cooking oil, and wine to a number of businesses in Co Mayo.

Around 3am he noticed smoke coming from his trailer a few miles east of Athlone, and while phoning the emergency services, pulled off the motorway before parking up and unhitching.

“It was a nuisance load rather than a hazardous load, but there was a lot of smoke which we were concerned about,” said the Fire Service’s spokesman.

He confirmed that had the driver not pulled off the motorway at that time, he would have been left with no option but to close the entire motorway until the fire was brought under control.

“It was a good idea to get it off the motorway,” said the spokesman.

The fire was so intense it damaged the road beneath the trailer, and required two units of the fire brigade to stay at the scene for a little over six hours to bring the situation under control.

A spokesperson for Athlone Town Council confirmed the damage to the road which “will require repair in the medium term”.

He estimated that this, the cost of attending the scene, organising traffic diversions, and disposing of the damaged cargo would be in the order of €30,000.

“The local authority is pursuing the lorry’s insurance company...and in our experience settlement and payment is usually forthcoming,” he explained.

“Thanks be to God nobody got hurt,” said Mike Harty of Harty International Transport, who attended at the scene.

“They [the Fire Service] were top class in their operation. We can only sing their praises. Unfortunately, the trailer got badly damaged, but the most important thing is that nobody got hurt,” he added.

It is believed the fire started through the friction of a burst tyre underneath the trailer.

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