QUEENSBURY — A truck driver was killed and all northbound lanes on the Northway between exits 17 and 19 were closed by a crash involving two tractor-trailers early Wednesday morning, a crash that caused major traffic issues around the region into the late afternoon.
Both trucks caught fire after they collided near the Exit 18 overpass, and one driver was able to escape with minor injuries while the other was not, officials said.
State Police said one of the trucks was stopped on the highway’s shoulder when it was hit by the other around 3:30 a.m. He had gotten out of his vehicle just before the collision, police said.
The drivers’ names were not immediately released, as police were working to notify next of kin of the man who died. Officials said he was not from the Glens Falls area, and was believed to have been headed to the Plattsburgh area.
The surviving driver, who was out of his truck checking a maintenance issue when his truck was hit, suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene by West Glens Falls Emergency Squad members.
The trucks both caught fire, one burning in a bright fireball atop the bridge that could be seen well down Main Street and Corinth Road.
“Both tractors burst into flames,” said Warren County Fire Coordinator Brian LaFlure. “It turned into a big mess.”
West Glens Falls Fire Chief Jeff Dailey said firefighters arrived to find trucks ablaze, and there was no way to get close enough to the one where the driver was trapped to attempt a rescue.
“It was fully involved,” he said.
A West Glens Falls Fire Department tower truck was used to douse the flames from above. There were no hydrants close to the overpass, so tankers had to be brought in to supply water.
Both sides of the highway were initially closed, but the southbound lanes had reopened as of 5:45 a.m. The northbound lanes were reopened to Exit 18 as of mid-morning, as traffic was diverted around the crash scene on the off-ramp. But a significant backup occurred in the northbound lanes, some saying it took them more than an hour to travel a few miles, when the traffic was limited to one lane there.
Heavy traffic and backups were also reported on Route 9 through Moreau and Glens Falls and around Exit 19 as drivers were re-routed.
Main Street was limited to alternating lanes at the Exit 18 overpass until about 5:10 p.m., when it reopened. State Police and numerous fire departments remained on scene well into the afternoon.
The trucks also remained on the highway into the afternoon as State Police accident reconstruction experts documented the scene, and removal of the charred vehicles and their contents was expected to take hours, requiring special cranes as well as a review of adjacent utility poles and wires by National Grid. Dumpsters were brought in for the offloaded contents of the trucks.
The state Department of Transportation also had to check the Exit 18 overpass bridge for possible structural issues in light of the intense fire that took place atop it.
No hazardous material spills were reported, as one truck was believed to be carrying bags of soil and pool supplies and the other groceries.
West Glens Falls firefighters received assistance at the scene from the Queensbury Central, Bay Ridge, South Glens Falls, South Queensbury, Corinth and Wilton fire departments and Saratoga County’s firefighter rehabilitation unit, while Lake George and North Queensbury fire departments stood by in stations as mutual aid.