The National Transportation Safety Board believes a tanker truck fire last week on Interstate 95 near Washington, D.C., may have been caused by wheel-end problems and could help the agency's ongoing investigation of the September bus fire near Dallas that killed 23 hurricane evacuees.
NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm said the agency hasn't sent any investigators to the scene of the I-95 incident, which occurred about 4:30 a.m. Nov. 23 in Beltsville, MD, but they are interested in seeing the investigation's results to determine whether there is a link to the Dallas incident, in which a Pharr-based bus caught fire.
In the D.C. area incident, an 8,700-gallon gasoline tanker had just filled up to cargo capacity and was headed toward a gas station when the driver noticed his right rear tire was on fire and immediately pulled his rig over to the right shoulder of I-95.
The truck already was heavily engulfed in fire when the first emergency responders arrived at the scene. No injuries resulted from the incident.
"As far as I know, the cause of the fire (near D.C.) has not been determined," Schlamm said. "But if it turned out that the origin of the fire was in the wheels of the axle, it might have some relevance. It may teach us something that would help us in looking at the Texas accident."
The Texas bus was operated by Pharr-based Global Limo Inc., which Federal officials ordered to immediately halt operations Oct. 7, after they determined the company posed an "imminent hazard" to public safety. At least five lawsuits have been filed in Hidalgo County courts in connection with the bus fire.
An accident reconstructionist with the Dallas County Sheriff's Department concluded the fire appeared to have started in the area of the right rear tag axle and tire. State investigators, meanwhile, determined the bus had defective and poorly maintained brakes but didn't indicate in their report whether the violations caused the fire or contributed to it in any way.
The most serious violation listed in the State report - one that warranted keeping the bus out of service - was that the right brake on the tag axle failed due to the loss of a wheel bearing and disc caliper. Tag axles are unpowered axles that help distribute the load and are located behind drive axles.