An employee with the Shawnee County Waste Department suffered minor injuries Wednesday morning when the garbage truck he was driving burst into flames in downtown Topeka.
Topeka Fire Chief Mike Martin says the truck caught fire around 6:45 a.m. near SE 10th and Quincy.
Martin says a mechanical malfunction sparked the fire that quickly spread from the cab to the back of the truck.
The driver of the truck, Bill Allensworth, sustained minor burns on his arms, back and neck while escaping the truck.
“The truck just exploded in flames,” said Allensworth. “I couldn’t get out of the cab. I went to kick the windshield out, but it wouldn’t come out. It all happened so fast. I opened the driver’s side door, jumped through the flames and hit the ground.”
Allensworth told WIBW News Now he did not notice anything wrong with the truck, mechanically or otherwise, before it caught fire.
“It went up in flames in less than a second,” said Allensworth. “Everything was operating fine. We had already done a third of our route this morning and everything was fine.”
Martin says the fire started underneath the cab, but investigators could not immediately determine what sort of mechanical issue was to blame.
“There are all kinds of possibilities, but it’s going to take someone really looking into it to see what happened,” said Martin.
More than an hour after the fire started, trash in the back of the truck was still burning.
“it’s in a closed compartment; and once that gets going in there the truck loses its hydraulics, so we can’t open it up and get to the fire,” said Martin.
Several people reported hearing small explosions from inside the burning truck. Martin says those were likely from aerosol cans bursting from the heat and there was little concern over the possibility of combustible materials mixed in with the trash causing any significant explosions.
Martin did say that because they were spraying water into the back of the truck, run-off would spread trash or other materials into the city’s sewer system.
Crews surrounded the truck with diking materials to prevent that from happening.
Southeast Quincy Street was closed off from 10th to 12th Street for several hours Wednesday morning while crews worked to keep the fire under control.
Feature photo submitted by Carey Mooradian