BELGRADE — A wall of flames greeted firefighters responding to a crash on Route 27 Wednesday morning.

The drivers of a fuel tanker truck and sport utility vehicle were injured in the accident that led to the truck catching fire and exploding, shutting down a portion of the road, and forcing the evacuation of the local post office and nearby homes.

The accident occurred between the Belgrade Post office and Belgrade Canoe and Kayak — at the intersection of Augusta Road, which is also Route 27, and Depot Road, also known as Route 8 and 11 — around 8:45 a.m.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said in a news release that the tanker truck was hauling 9,500 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil and was engulfed in flames.

He said the SUV was stopped at a stop sign at the intersection and its driver drove in front of the oncoming tractor-trailer, which police said was headed north. The 2005 GMC Yukon struck the tanker truck, which overturned and caught on fire.

Firefighters arriving at the scene reported the truck was fully involved in fire, with the flames spreading along the roadway.

“It was a wall of flames,” Belgrade Chief Dan Mackenzie said of what firefighters encountered as they arrived on scene.

He said it was unlike any accident he had responded to in his 30-odd years as a firefighter.

The main fire in what was left of the truck — a J and S Oil tractor trailer that Maine State Police Trooper Bernie Campbell said was carrying both gasoline and diesel fuel — as well as several smaller fires on the ground nearby where fuel had spilled in the crash, continued to burn off after 11 a.m.

Mackenzie said they hoped to at least get Route 8 and 11 open to traffic around noon Wednesday.

McCausland said Route 27 reopened just after noon with a detour put in place around the crash site, via Cemetery Road, by the state Department of Transportation. He said the crash site was expected to be cleaned up by late afternoon.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, Mark Tuttle, 54, of Albion, was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta with minor injuries and was expected to be released Wednesday. The driver of the SUV, Robert Engdahl, 74, of Winthrop, also suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from MaineGeneral.

McCausland said state police cited Engdahl for failing to yield the right of way.

Flames from the tanker were so hot some of the siding on the front of the post office, roughly 50 feet away, melted. Firefighters hosed down the front and roof of the building to make sure it didn’t catch on fire.

The post office was evacuated and workers watched the fire scene from the back parking lot. They said they could not comment on what they saw.

Flames also threatened nearby homes, including a double-wide mobile home — as its driveway is where the SUV in the accident ended up. A roughly 40-foot-tall pine tree in the yard of the home was blackened and singed all the way to the top of the tree.

The flames also melted power lines above them, knocking out power in the area. Early Wednesday afternoon Central Maine Power Co. reported, on its outages website, 1,510 customers were without power in Belgrade, as well as 157 in Augusta, 727 in Sidney and 355 in Rome.

Catherine Hartnett, manager of internal communications for CMP, said Wednesday afternoon the company had rerouted power lines to bring back power to some customers impacted by the outage. She said about 2,700 customers were without power due to the crash at the peak of the outage, and customers not in the immediate area of the fire would get power back on an ongoing basis Wednesday.

Hartnett indicated it was unknown when the lines at the scene of the accident and fire would be fixed, because CMP workers wouldn’t be able to make the needed repairs there until the fire was fully out and public safety officials gave the OK for them to do so.

Mackenzie said firefighters were letting the fuel fire burn out on the advice of Department of Environmental Protection officials, who were also at the scene.

David Madore, DEP communications director, said the agency still had workers on the scene in the mid-afternoon Wednesday. They were cleaning up fluids, providing technical assistance, assessing environmental damage and how big an area was impacted by the crash and fire. He confirmed that DEP officials recommended firefighters to burn off the fuel and minimize the impact on the environment. Madore said the DEP would examine the scene more closely to determine what steps to take, which could — if necessary — include monitoring of the water from any local private wells nearby if they were impacted by the incident.

Firefighters from departments including Augusta, Waterville, Readfield, Manchester, Fairfield, Sidney, Smithfield, Belgrade, Rome, and Oakland responded to the fire, as did Delta Ambulance crews.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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