Early morning truck explosion leaves damaged road in Colbert County

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COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - An 18-wheeler carrying hazardous materials caught fire early Thursday morning, causing Highway 72 to shut down for eight hours near Cherokee.

HAZMAT and Cherokee fire crews had to wait seven hours before attempting to approach the flames because the chemicals were extremely toxic.

"Better safe than sorry," said Cherokee Fire Department incident commander Chuck Lansdell. "We would much rather err on the side of caution than to go make that phone call we dread. It was safer to let it burn, and let it burn the chemicals up than it was to try to extinguish and contain it."

Lansdell said the truck was transporting more than 7,000 pounds of two different hazardous chemicals. They were coming from Nashville, heading to Decatur then Atlanta.

Emergency officials were concerned about the vapor spreading. They immediately evacuated four homes. They also shut down Highway 72 both directions, and the Natchez Trace Parkway ramps.

"It was a recipe for a mess," Lansdell added. "If it hadn't been at the right time of day, if we had a lot of traffic out here, we could have had a lot more problems."

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 1.06.20 PMThe truck was carrying multiple other products, like additional auto parts, break shoes, and computers.

"There were probably thousands of brake cleaner canisters in there, 20 ounce aerosol cans. Those were launching going all the way into the woods and across the highway."

Environmental cleanup crews handled the mess, and emergency teams put up barriers to prevent the chemicals left on the road from leaking into the nearby creek.

Lansdell said that the fire burned so hot, ALDOT crews will have to assess any damage done to the road.