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UPDATE: Details about driver of big-rig that caught fire on Hwy. 101

The remains of a big-rig that burned on Highway 101 near the northern base of the Cuesta Grade on March 1.
The remains of a big-rig that burned on Highway 101 near the northern base of the Cuesta Grade on March 1.

UPDATE | 4:15 p.m.

The driver of a 2005 Freightliner truck that caught fire early Monday on Highway 101 first heard a small explosion in the engine compartment, then saw smoke and flames coming from underneath the hood.

Humberto Ramos immediately pulled to the right shoulder of the highway at Tassajara Creek Road near the northern base of the Cuesta Grade at about 5:35 a.m., according to CHP.

Ramos, 51, of Riverbank, was able to get out of the cab before it was fully engulfed in flames. He was not injured. No other vehicles were involved in the incident, which snarled traffic for several hours for drivers between Atascadero and Santa Margarita.

The southbound lanes of Highway 101 were shut down for about 40 minutes while CalFire put out the fire and contained the 30 gallons of diesel fuel that leaked onto the shoulder and center median.

The 65-foot-long Freightliner’s cargo of wooden pallets was not damaged.

The early-morning closure caused waits of an hour and a half or more for some drivers heading toward San Luis Obispo from the North County. Others chose to take an alternate route on Highway 41 from Atascadero to Morro Bay. CHP spokesman Joe Vega said that route became congested as well.

— Cynthia Lambert

UPDATE | 11:55 a.m.

Crews are expected to finish cleaning up from a big-rig fire on Highway 101 by noon, said CHP spokesman Joe Vega.

Only one lane remained open to commuters at about 11:20 a.m., nearly six hours after the 65-foot-long big-rig’s engine compartment caught fire, forcing the driver to stop at Tassajara Creek Road near the northern base of the Cuesta Grade.

The early morning closure caused waits of more than an hour and a half for some drivers heading toward San Luis Obispo. Others chose to take an alternate route on Highway 41 from Atascadero to Morro Bay. Vega said that route became congested as well.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. Vega said the driver of the rig, which was fully loaded with wooden crates, pulled off the highway at 5:30 a.m. Monday after he noticed smoke coming from the engine compartment. The entire cab and engine compartment were engulfed in flames, but the fire did not burn the load of wooden crates, Vega said.

There were no injuries, and no other vehicles were involved. The driver’s identity was not known Monday.

A private company was cleaning up the diesel spill, Vega said. The spill area was contained on the shoulder of the highway, he said.

— Cynthia Lambert

UPDATE | 9:32 a.m.

Traffic was backed up to the Santa Rosa Road overpass in Atascadero at 8:50 a.m.

Traffic is flowing west on Highway 41, though it is heavy as commuters try to find another way into San Luis Obispo. The CHP also called for help from Morro Bay police, as traffic was backed up on Highway 41 to the avocado farm.

Expect slowing in windy stretches of the road, as well as the Highway 1 interchange in Morro Bay.

ORIGINAL STORY | 8:07 a.m.

A big-rig caught on fire just after 5:30 Monday morning, causing traffic delays for several hours on southbound Highway 101 between Atascadero and Santa Margarita.

The truck pulled over at Tassajara Creek Road near the northern base of the Cuesta Grade at 5:38 a.m., according to the CHP. The cab was reportedly on fire, and a tire exploded. The back of the rig was full of fire wood.

Both lanes were blocked just before 6 a.m.

The Highway 58 onramp to Highway 101 was closed at 6:04.

Because the truck spilled diesel, hazardous materials officials were called to the scene.

At 6:31 a.m., traffic was allowed to drive through one lane.

Vehicles were allowed in both lanes at 7:12 a.m. except for the area just near the burned-out vehicle. However, traffic was still backed up to Santa Barbara Road in Atascadero at 7:50 a.m.

One lane near the scene was expected to be closed until noon, according to the CHP.

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