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Gridlock in Polk

Tractor-trailer wreck on I-26 Wednesday causes fire; driver airlifted to burn center 

SALUDA—A tractor-trailer accident on I-26 Wednesday caused a gridlock of traffic throughout the county into the night. 

The tractor-trailer was carrying diesel and gasoline and overturned at mile marker 62 in the westbound lane. 

The truck caught fire, including the woods nearby. The call came in at 1:36 p.m. Wednesday. 

Polk County Emergency Management Director Bobby Arledge said the truck was carrying 6,500 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The driver was going down hill in the dip, lost control and overturned. The driver of the vehicle, who has not been named, was airlifted to the Augusta Burn Center with injuries. He is from Polk County. His condition was not known as of press time. 

Local officials landed the helicopter from Spartanburg Regional Medical Center on the eastbound lane near the accident. 

At times on Wednesday, both the eastbound and westbound lanes were closed to traffic and sometimes officials opened up the eastbound lane to let traffic through. 

Drivers were taking the Saluda exit to either go down U.S. 176 to Tryon or Holbert Cove Road to Mill Spring. There were at two other accidents each on 176 and Holbert Cove Road, with truckers jackknifing on those roads. At one point Wednesday evening U.S. 176 was closed because of an accident. 

The North Carolina Department of Transportation worked in the middle of the night to take up the section of I-26 that was burned and repave it. The interstate was re-opened early Thursday morning. 

Arledge also said some of the fuel went into the creek below that runs to Little Bradley Falls, so state officials were called in for that clean up. 

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office put out a statement on social media saying the day had been tough for public safety professionals and anyone trying to get in or through the county. 

“This all began as a horrific crash that caused serious injuries to a driver and required that emergency responders deal with a major fire, a serious trauma incident, an emergency flight landing zone, traffic control, a hazardous materials spill, a wildland fire and multiple addition tractor trailer wrecks on several other major roadways, all simultaneously,” the sheriff’s office said. “We understand your frustrations and the inconveniences these types of incidents cause, but we always ask that you remain patient, think your decisions through, follow the directions of public safety personnel and remember that we are dealing with the stresses as well.” 

Polk County Sheriff Tim Wright extended thoughts and prayers to the truck driver as well as his family and recognized the 911 telecommunicators, the fire and EMS responders, the police officers, troopers, the N.C. Forest Service, the flight crews, the NCDOT, the wreck operators, the public works officials, mutual aid departments, hazardous material technicians and every other person who stopped to help. 

“We live in an amazing place, where everyone has to always come together or we will never succeed,” Wright said. “Thank you Polk County and stay safe.” 

Arledge said he is planning an after action review meeting with local and state officials next week to review what went right, what went wrong and to see how officials can have a plan if something such as this ever happens in the future.