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Straw That Broke a Trucker's Heart

Fire: Terry Wegner can 'only stand there and watch' as his $100,000 vehicle is destroyed by blaze in cargo.


ANAHEIM — A veteran truck driver's week-old freight liner was destroyed early Friday after a load of 530 bales of straw suddenly burst into flames on the Santa Ana Freeway, causing a tie-up that clogged traffic for more than seven hours.

No one was injured in the fire, which took 25 firefighters about four hours to extinguish.

"I had everything on it, everything I ever wanted on that truck," said driver Terry Wegner of Visalia, who has been in the trucking business for 34 years.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing is left. It's very depressing."

He said he is insured, but will have to wait at least two months to order another truck. In the meantime, he is without wheels.

"It really puts me in a bind. It's like not working for 60 days."

Wegner was heading to the Del Mar Race Track to deliver two trailer loads of straw when smoke began billowing from his flatbeds. Wegner immediately pulled over, hopped out of the truck and stood by helplessly as the flames engulfed his brand-new $100,000 truck.

Investigators say they don't know what sparked the fire.

"It'll probably be impossible to determine what caused the fire," California Highway Patrol Sgt. H.G. Powell said. "It could have been as simple as someone flicking a cigarette and it landed on his load."

The incident occurred about 6:25 a.m. while Wegner was en route to the racetrack to drop off the $3,000 worth of bedding straw at the horse stalls. He had made the trip from his Central Valley home many times before.

On Friday, he was southbound on the freeway near the Magnolia Avenue exit when a tow truck driver pulled alongside and started pointing to his back trailer.

"I thought maybe I blew a tire or something," Wegner said. "I looked in the right rear-view mirror and, doggone it, I saw flames on the side."

Wegner said he and the tow truck driver pulled over and tried to put out the flames with portable fire extinguishers.

"We tried to stop the fire, but to no avail," Wegner said. "I could only stand there and watch it burn."

Firefighters arrived and closed all the southbound lanes until 2 p.m. Traffic was jammed on both sides of the freeway, spanning from Norwalk to the Orange Freeway.

The blaze ruptured Wegner's fuel tank, which contained about 140 gallons of diesel. A crew from a pumping service company worked to absorb the fuel spill, blocking off a storm drain and pressure washing the road surface, Powell said.

Firefighters had to hoist the truck's trailers and turn them over to dump the smoldering straw onto the ground and extinguish the flames, fire officials said.

Wegner, who spent 16 years saving for a new truck, said he was elated when he picked up the vehicle late last week. He described the truck as a hard-to-find 1997 model trailer truck that was designed especially for straw and hay transportation.

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