Tanker Accident Forces Evacuations

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Residents in Geronimo Estates were evacuated for seven hours Tuesday after a nearly fully loaded propane tanker overturned on Forest Road 458 in the heart of the community.

John Judy, a driver for Matlock Gas and Equipment Company in Rye, was making propane deliveries in the subdivision northeast of Payson, when the truck rounded a curve, hit an icy patch, slid out of control and flipped over on its left side, Whispering Pines Fire Chief Chris Bleak said.

Fire fighters from Whispering Pines and Mesa del Caballo evacuated people from nearly a dozen homes within a quarter-mile radius of the accident and turned off the utilities to eight homes to protect the neighborhood from fire in the event of a tank leak, Bleak said. Evacuating the area and shutting off the utilities allowed the department to minimize the ignition sources that could spark the flammable gas if it seeped into the neighborhood through a tank breach, he said.

The tanker was 85-percent full when it overturned at 10:30 Tuesday morning and crews from Northern Energy in Payson were sent to the scene to transfer the propane to another tanker before the Matlock truck was pulled back onto its wheels.

The tanker tipped in such a way that the propane couldn't be transferred, Bleak said, but the truck was safely righted with its load intact.

Forest Road 458, the main road through Geronimo Estates, was closed for seven hours while crews evacuated the neighborhood and cleared the street.

"The accident wouldn't have happened if the truck had had chains on," Bleak said. "In these remote areas in the forest, it's important to use tire chains when it's icy like this."

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