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Two hay semi crashes on I-29 near Grand Forks, cause hours of delays

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Manvel firefighters douse the flames of a 18-wheeler carrying bales of hay that caught fire north of Grand Forks on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)2 / 5
Manvel firefighters douses the flames of a 18-wheeler carrying bales of hay that caught fire north of Grand Forks on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)3 / 5
The North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Manvel Fire Department respond to an overturned truck at the off ramp of North Washington Street from Interstate 29 near Grand Forks on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)4 / 5
A Manvel firefighter assesses the damage and monitors a fuel leak in the overturned truck. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)5 / 5

MANVEL, N.D.—It was hard for commuters passing south through Grand Forks County on Interstate 29 to make any hay Wednesday when two semis hauling fodder were involved in separate incidents—one of which a truck erupted in flames and closed the interstate for three hours.

A Canadian man was transporting hay south on I-29 near Manvel just before 9 p.m. Wednesday when, for reasons yet to be determined, his load started on fire, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The driver, 47-year-old Vladislav Lekhno, stopped the semi on the shoulder of the lane and was able to exit the truck without injury. Both southbound lanes on I-29 were closed to traffic for about three hours while the Highway Patrol and state Department of Transportation cleared debris. The Manvel and Thompson (N.D.) fire departments extinguished the flames.

Manvel firefighters were called back to the scene at 11:15 a.m. Thursday when the remnants of the hay reignited.

Tom Corwin, the training officer for the Thompson Volunteer Fire Department, said Manvel reached out for assistance when they ran out of water around 10 p.m. Corwin and another Thompson volunteer drove up 4,000- and 4,500-gallon tankers of water to assist in suffocating the flames. One tanker was refilled twice, another three times, he said.

In total, Thompson Fire brought about 16,000 gallons to help fight the fire.

The truck had a 40-foot trailer that Corwin estimates was carrying hay bales stacked 13 high. The hay took hours to get under control. Thompson firefighters left the scene shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday, and Corwin said he saw traffic starting to move southbound on I-29 again about 20 minutes later.

Hay fires can be tricky.

"When you put water on it, the ash insulates the fire underneath," Corwin explained.

As a result, the hay needs to be broken up to effectively extinguish the flames. A front-end loader tractor was brought to the scene by the DOT to help disperse the hay, Corwin said.

Dale Breidenbach of the DOT said the employee who brought the front-end loader to the scene didn't return to the shop until 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Earlier Wednesday evening, just before 6 p.m., a red 1977 farm truck loaded with hay took the North Washington Street exit in Grand Forks onto I-29 south. The driver, 66-year-old Marco Holter, was unable to stop at Grand Forks County Road 5 and drove into a ditch to avoid a collision, tipping his load in the process. He sustained minor injuries.

A 31-year veteran of the DOT, Breidenbach said he can't remember another incident where two trucks lost similar loads in the same night. Occasional short closures occur during bad storms, or to pull a truck out of a ditch, but nothing like this.

In April 2015, a grass fire ignited by a semi driving south on I-29 from Walhalla, N.D., shut down traffic for 4 ½ hours along parts of the interstate in Pembina, Walsh and Grand Forks counties. A 10-vehicle crash because of smoke from the blaze sent eight people to the hospital.

The driver was stopped near Grand Forks, and troopers discovered coal residue in the semi's conveyor had caught fire.

No charges were sought in the case.