Company silent after truck-and-trailer destroyed in fire

Summerland Express Freight is remaining tight-lipped about another incident involving one of its vehicles, after a northbound truck-and-trailer unit carrying tins of milk powder caught fire  in South Canterbury yesterday morning.

Fire crews from St Andrews and Waimate and a water tanker from Glenavy all attended  the scene at the truck stop at Makikihi Country Hotel, where the trailer unit became engulfed in flames shortly after its driver  pulled off State Highway 1 about 7.41am.

Calls from the Otago Daily Times to Summerland Express Freight general manager Grant Lowe were not returned yesterday.

St Andrews Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Rob Usmar said the fire had mostly been extinguished by 9.30am and a loader had been brought in to remove smouldering pallets.

The remains of the trailer and its contents were still smouldering about 10.40am.

A man at the scene, who did not want to be named, said he spoke to the truck driver  after he parked at the truck stop, detached the burning trailer unit and moved the cab away from the area.

"He was coming up the road and noticed smoke and flames coming out of it. He said he thought he had better stop because of all of the dry grass around, so he parked in here."

Videos of the incident were widely circulated on social media, including one shot by Gabriel Van Royen.

"We were mostly shocked and a few people hoped nobody was in there," he said.

Constable Craig Hedges, of St Andrews, said it was not immediately known what caused the blaze.

Mr Usmar praised the  truck driver, who drove for about a kilometre while the trailer unit was on fire so he could pull over safely.

"Luckily, he was able to pull in there and not park in the middle of the road. He has actually done very, very well."

NPD Makikihi Motors co-owner Alan Wilkinson called emergency services after a customer told him about the blaze.

The smouldering remains of a Summerland Express Freight trailer unit  gutted by fire in Makikihi...
The smouldering remains of a Summerland Express Freight trailer unit gutted by fire in Makikihi in South Canterbury yesterday. Photo: Daniel Birchfield
"By the time they got here, it was really a case of just trying to put it out."

Makikihi Country Hotel venue manager Daniel Lewis said it was a bit of a shock having a burning truck pull up.

Mr Lewis said the driver told him he saw flames in his rear-vision mirror and then started looking for a safe place to stop while driving the burning truck on SH1.

Last month, a Summerland Express Freight truck carrying dangerous goods ran off State Highway 8, in the Lindis Pass, causing "moderate" injuries to the 43-year-old driver.

Early last year, the Otago Daily Times reported on a spate of crashes involving Summerland vehicles on southern roads, spurring several investigations by the police commercial vehicle safety team.

- Additional reporting by George Block and Vaughan Elder


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