COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) A massive fire ripped through a trucking company in Colchester Wednesday, sending black smoke billowing into the air. Hundreds of commuters on Interstate 89 could see it on their way to work.
The fire broke out at J and B Truck Center on Hercules Drive behind Costco at about 9:30 a.m. Everyone working in and around the building made it out safely.
Dozens of firefighters responded from departments across Chittenden County. And the northbound lanes of nearby I-89 were shut down for about two hours as crews worked to douse the fire.
The cause is still under investigation but workers told WCAX News they heard what they thought was a leak in a fuel truck they were repairing. They all quickly left the building and the fire ignited shortly after.
"As soon as we heard the leak, immediately we got out," said Mark Patch, who works at J and B Truck Center. "Everybody was just yelling, 'Everybody get out of the building!'"
Patch said his Wednesday morning started like any other at J and B Truck Center until a massive fire forced him and about 30 other workers off the job.
The business is a family-owned maintenance garage and dealership for a variety of commercial vehicles.
"It's organized chaos the first couple of minutes," said Erik Haversang, a battalion chief with the Colchester Fire Department.
Mutual aid called in from the surrounding area, including the Vermont National Guard, responded quickly and firefighters were able to contain the flames.
"The crews did a fantastic job minimizing the damage because when I first showed up there was flames and fire and thick black smoke," Haversang said.
Haversang said tools and trucks being worked on were destroyed on one side of the building. But on the other side, inventory, office records and brand new tractor-trailer units were saved.
Haversang knows how chaotic responding to a scene can be but he said once crews knew their role, they were able to bring order to the situation.
"The big thing is everybody worked really well together and it was definitely a massive group effort," Haversang said.
And crews had to worry about more than the fire. As firefighters battled flames several stories high, the Vermont Hazmat Response Team was called in to deal with all the oil, diesel, brake and hydraulic fluid in the building.
"I would say there is substantial damage to it at this point," Colchester Police Chief Doug Allen said. "There's kind of anything you would think of in a garage: oil, transmission fluid, tires. So there's quite a load of materials in there."
"So that is all going to run off when we put a lot of water down," Haversang said.
The Vermont Hazmat Response team was called in.
"We're trying to just mitigate, as much as we can, the damage to the environment and to the people," said Todd Cosgrove, the chief of the Vermont Hazmat Team.
Cosgrove said crews had their suits cleaned off to ensure no hazardous materials remained. But some of the gear may not be able to be saved.
"We've laid down a bunch of spill booms to contain the runoff that's going to a local stream, which goes to a retention pond about 1,500 feet away," Cosgrove said.
He said the contamination was contained and all water and air in the area are perfectly safe.
But the work is far from over. Officials estimate it could take days to finish the cleanup.