SWEETWATER, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Drivers are asked to avoid I-20 in Sweetwater near Hopkins Road due to a tanker truck fire.

The fire began near the TA truck stop around 12 p.m. Citizens are sending pictures of huge plumes of smoke into the sky, visible for miles away.

Microtel Inn and Suites is located just off I-20 close to where the accident happened and hotel manager, Brenda Morales, said she heard the crash and immediately called 9-1-1. She then went to help direct traffic but shortly after the tanker caught fire.

“The flames just came all around us so as soon as the guy comes running and says ‘get in your car and leave’ right in my rear view mirror is flames coming right up behind me,” Morales said.

The flames spread and reached the Love’s gas station parking lot, which is neighbors to the Microtel Inn and Suites.  Due to the flames becoming close to the propane tank outside of the Love’s gas station, both businesses had to be evacuated.

“It’s a pretty scary moment. You pretty much start thinking of the worst and praying for the best,” Morales said.

“Everything outside these windows was completely black,” Hotel guest, Casee Peters said. “I mean I’ve never seen anything that black in my life.  It was massive.  It was scary.”

The fire was extinguished by about 1 p.m. Thursday. The driver of the 18-wheeler was airlifted to a hospital for his injuries.

Traffic along Interstate 20 had to be rerouted as a nearby bridge was affected by the fire. Temporary shoring will be required for the eastbound structure of the bridge, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDOT). The structure is expected to reopen Friday night. 

Minor damage was made to the westbound structure, but is still open as there is still sufficient load capacity to handle traffic, according to TxDOT. The roadway underneath the bridge will remain closed until repairs are complete.

Traffic on the westbound lanes of the interstate has slowed to a crawl

Eyewitnesses said they heard a loud explosion as the fire started.

The truck driver has been identified as Joshua Winegert. Winegert’s family told BigCountryHomepage that his truck initially had a blowout.

Winegert is recovering in an intensive care unit in Lubbock with burns and broken bones in his face. He is expected to make a full recovery. 

Stick with BigCountryHomepage for any updates.