Six thousand gallons of spilled gasoline creates an explosive situation for Mark Fisk and his hazardous materials emergency response team. Fisk is the project manager for MP Environmental Services, the Phoenix-based company hired to clean up the toxic fuel spill on the Beeline Highway south of Payson.
On the morning of Sunday, Jan. 19, a tanker truck carrying 8,000 gallons of fuel rolled on Highway 87 near the intersection of Highway 188. The rollover accident created a 325-foot-long trail of gasoline and closed the highway in both directions for nine hours.
"The reason it took so long to get the road open that night was because the flammable vapors had to be suppressed," Fisk said. "Otherwise, if someone were to toss out a cigarette or some other ignition source, we could have a fire or explosion."
Clearing the road also caused delays.
"Gasoline actually melts the asphalt," Fisk said. "So we had to scrape the melted asphalt off and push it to the shoulders of the road with a backhoe to make it passable."
Cleanup work continues as Fisk's team digs up the petroleum contaminated soil and transports it to an approved hazardous-waste landfill in Apache Junction. According to Fisk, there are only half a dozen landfills in the state approved for such toxic waste disposal.
Utility lines running along the highway are further complicating the cleanup effort.
"We still have a utility ditch full of gas," Fisk said. "All the lines need to be rerouted before we can remove the petroleum contaminated soil.
"There's a 21,000 high voltage electric line, high pressure water lines and telephone lines underground on the east shoulder," he said. "We hope to get that work started Monday, Feb. 19, and that should take at least two weeks."
After the contaminated soil is removed, the holes will be filled with clean dirt, but that doesn't complete the job.
"Because (the spill) is on the Tonto National Forest, the company is required to re-vegetate the land back to its natural terrain," Fisk said.
As work continues, the highway will remain open, but Fisk reminds motorists to obey the posted speed limits and be aware of the gasoline vapor.