By Johnny Jackson
Stockbridge resident, Michael Davis, said he noticed the smoke billowing up from one of the right wheels of his transfer truck. He said he thought it may have been smoke from the brakes.
The truck driver quickly learned that was not the case. The smoking wheel caught on fire, dislodged, and rolled into a grass embankment along Interstate 75 southbound, in Henry County.
The burning wheel immediately sparked a grass fire, according to Henry County Fire Caspt. Stacey Ponder, who responded to the fire Thursday, at 2:11 p.m.
Ponder said the fire only took about 15 minutes to burn through more than half an acre of land just south of Exit 221, and the Jonesboro Road overpass. He said the Henry County and City of McDonough fire departments doused the fire in tandem, with McDonough Squad 52 and Henry County Fire Station No. 8, responding.
"Until we get some rain, we'll have a lot of these," said Ponder, adding that grass fires will likely become more frequent as conditions become drier.
Georgia is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center's U.S. Drought Monitor report, released Thursday. The report indicates that conditions are already drought-like in the lower third of the state, as well as parts of western Georgia, accounting for more than 40 percent of the state's land area.
The fire likely spread as a result of the abnormally dry weather, and the dry grass, said Chris Woolf, who works for the Hampton-based Wrecker 1, which provided wrecker services following the incident.
"In the last year, I've probably covered about five of these," said Woolf. "It's the lack of rain and the 100-degree temperatures that help bring a spark to this dry grass."
Davis said he has driven trucks for Atlanta-based Allied Systems, LTD, for the past 15 years, and has never had a wheel catch on fire. He said he believes the oil supply on his car hauler was cut off from the truck's wheel bearings, causing friction that eventually caused the wheel to burst into flames, and disintegrate onto the side of the roadway.
The trucker said the vehicle began a long skid down the interstate, once the wheel separated from the truck. Riding on the truck's left wheel and 250-gallon fuel tank, he said he maneuvered the truck and its trailer onto the shoulder. There, he found the grass ablaze and the separated wheel resting several yards up an embankment.
"By the grace of God, the fuel tank didn't explode," said Davis, a husband, and the father of four. Davis said he plans to be back on the road today -- back hauling that load of automobiles for Allied Systems, from Hapeville to Griffin.