A miserable Monday commute to SLO: Truck fire jams 101

A big rig caught fire early Monday morning while heading south on Highway 101, spilling 30 gallons of diesel fuel onto the shoulder and snarling traffic for several hours for motorists trying to get to work in San Luis Obispo.

CHP spokesman Joe Vega said crews finished most of the cleanup at noon at Tassajara Creek Road, near the bottom of the northern base of the Cuesta Grade. The incident occurred about 5:30 a.m. just south of the exit for Santa Margarita.

Traffic was still reduced to one lane at Tassajara Creek Road in the midafternoon, but both lanes were again open by evening.

The closure caused waits of several hours for some drivers heading toward San Luis Obispo from the North County. Others chose to take Highway 41 from Atascadero to Morro Bay, but Vega said that route became congested as well and backed up where Highway 41 meets Highway 1.

The driver of the 2005 Freightliner truck that caught fire 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, according to the CHP.

Ramos, 51, of Riverbank was able to get out of the cab before it was fully engulfed in flames. He was uninjured. The 65-foot-long Freightliner’s cargo of wooden pallets was not damaged.

Stopped motorists passed their time by texting or phoning family and friends on their cell phones. A Tribune employee commuting from Atascadero said she watched movies on her vehicle’s DVD player while traffic was at a standstill.

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