A major highway through northwestern Alberta was closed late Friday morning due to a fiery collision involving hazardous materials that could be seen dozens of kilometres away.
Thick, black smoke filled the air at the scene on Highway 43 near Gunn, Alta., as seen in the multiple photos and videos sent to Global News.
Alberta RCMP say the collision between a semi-tractor tanker truck and delivery van happened just after 10:15 a.m.
“It appears we had a collision with a fully loaded transport truck carrying diesel fuel with a small van,” said Randy Schroeder, fire chief of Lac Ste. Anne County.
He said 20 firefighters were part of the response.
Early Friday afternoon, RCMP said the drivers — the lone occupant of each vehicle — were taken to hospital with unknown injuries.
“Both drivers survived the crash and they were taken and transported by ground ambulance to Edmonton,” Schroeder said.
One witness told 630 CHED they could see the plume of smoke from about 40 kilometres away.
“It was definitely a significant event,” Schroeder said.
He added fire crews were getting reports of the smoke and flames from 70 kilometres away.
Schroeder said no residents were immediately impacted and no homes nor businesses had to be evacuated. However, traffic was detoured because of the fire and the hazardous materials released by the crash.
Once the patients were transported, the biggest concern was the environmental impact, Schroeder said. Alberta Environment was on scene with the transport company doing an assessment, he said.
An Alberta emergency alert issued just before noon by Lac Ste. Anne County said emergency responders were at the scene of a hazardous materials incident that affected travel on Highway 43.
“Emergency responders are working to control a fuel oil product fire near the intersection of Highway 43 and Highway 33 and vehicle traffic is being detoured around the emergency scene,” the alert said.
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Highway 43 westbound traffic was being detoured to Highway 633, then west to Highway 765 and north to Highway 43.
Eastbound traffic was being detoured south to the service road at Gunn ESSO, then to the highway intersection.
Highway 33 traffic was detoured to a gravel road one mile north of Highway 43, the county said.
Daniel Check has a lake cottage near the intersection.
“We got a phone call from my sister in law across the lake saying, ‘It looks like there’s some kind of explosion over there.’
“It was quite a plume,” Check said. “There was hardly anybody there.”
“It smelled like burning diesel… Everything around there was just smoking. Not good.”
“Flames, 50, 100 feet in the air,” he recalled.
He said the intersection has been the site of other accidents and deaths.
“It looks like … I assume it’s another semi… went right over the cab. You see the engine sticking out. It’s horrible. Just sickening,” Check said.
“It was just horrific to see something like this happen. And to know how many people were involved… two at least.”
Highway 37 traffic was detoured south to Highway 633, then west to Highway 765, and north to Highway 43.
Mitigation work to clean up the crash scene is expected to take approximately eight hours to complete, the county said.
Global News has reached out to Alberta Health Services for more information.
The scene is about 65 kilometres northwest of Edmonton in Lac Ste. Anne County.