GARDNERVILLE - A Douglas County man and the driving team of a semi were killed Sunday evening in a fiery head-on collision after the driver of the pickup completed an illegal pass south of Washoe Road near Bodie Flat.
Nevada Highway Patrol Sgt. Ron Larson said the driver of the green 1996 GMC pickup had just completed his pass when he struck the semi heading southbound on 395 at about 5:40 p.m. Witnesses in cars behind the pickup and the semi confirmed that the driver was in the no-pass zone.
The driver and his partner were burned in the semi cab, while the driver of the pickup was ejected and burned. The identities of the victims have not been released, pending notification of kin.
The collision set off ammunition inside the pickup truck and sparked a wildfire on both the east and west side of the highway that Larson said was quickly extinguished. More than 10 engines responded to the blaze, which witnesses described as a wall of fire. The wildfire scorched from two to five acres and threatened several homes at one time, said Helen Frazier of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden.
Douglas County deputies and the NHP closed 395 at Riverview Drive and the 395 junction with Highway 208 until about 10 p.m. The cleanup is expected to be completed by today. Douglas County responded first to the call. There was no need to call Care Flight, Larson said.
The Swift semi was left smoldering on the west side of the road, the cab obliterated and the blackened cargo spilled out onto the highway. The scorch mark left by the wildfire surrounded the semi. The pickup came to rest in the east shoulder of the highway, facing southeast, its front half crushed.
James Morgan, who lives on Bodie Flat overlooking 395, said he looked down at the flames from his home at about 5:45 p.m.
"We just made sure the fire wasn't on our side of the freeway," he said while watching the cleanup effort. "To make sure we didn't have to evacuate."
Don Fillmore, 51, a Gardnerville carpenter, was installing a new stereo in his wife's red Camaro when he heard the collision.
"I spun around, and there was a wall of flames 50 feet high and 200 feet long," he said while standing in his driveway, a few hundred feet from the crash site. "That's all I could see for about 30 seconds. It was burning down the road on the diesel."
Fillmore helped extinguish a blaze on the east side of the highway, started when the pickup's flaming spare tire ejected into the grass. He heard five to six explosions.
Witness Jason Revell, 25, said he called 911 after he heard the boom and helped extinguish the fire by attaching three of his garden hoses to fight the approaching flames.
Revell and his brother, Robert, will ship out in a week to drive for Swift, which is now something that makes his mother nervous.
"I'm scared," Debbie Mitchell said while sitting on the back porch facing the accident. "I'm scared for both my sons."
"It's scary, but it's life," Revell said. "I'm sorry for the families."
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.