M6 Closure J34 – J33 Southbound, Lancashire. Wednesday 27 January 2016
The M6 in Lancashire was closed southbound between J34 (Lancaster, Morecambe, A683) and J33 (Garstang, Fleetwood, A6) due to a lorry transporting biscuits which caught fire. The road remained closed whilst the fire was extinguished, the lorry was unloaded and recovered and emergency resurfacing to remove and replace the road surface which was damaged by the fire.
At 10:58 Highways England’s North West Regional Control Centre (RCC) were notified by our colleagues of the North West Motorway Police Group that they had received numerous emergency calls reporting a lorry on fire on the M6 near Lancaster. Our RCC operators quickly located the fire on CCTV and established with Lancashire Fire & Rescue that they were aware if the fire and were already on their way to the incident.
Lancashire Fire & Rescue service confirm they had been called by the driver of an articulated lorry that had suffered a fuel spillage which had caught fire in lanes 1 and 2 at 10:54 and that two fire engines from Lancaster were en-route. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they immediately requested a full closure of the southbound motorway for safety reasons and they started to tackle the fire using four firefighters in breathing apparatus and two hose reels. By 11:30, another three fire engines from Carnforth, Morecambe and Garstang were mobilised to the scene. Firefighters at the scene confirmed at 1130 that the HGV had been transporting a 44 tonne load of biscuits and that they anticipated that it would take some time for the fire to be extinguished.
The RCC confirmed that a diversion route was available around the closed section of motorway. Road users were to leave the M6 at J34 and follow the hollow square diversion symbols on local road signs which took traffic on to the A683 towards Lancaster and then join the A6 southbound through Lancaster town centre to re-join the M6 at J33.
Whilst the fire service worked at the scene to extinguish the fire officers from Lancashire Police units arrived on the scene and began to turn traffic around that was stuck behind the scene and J34 so they could exit the motorway. Given the mixture of large and small vehicles and the volume of traffic within the closed section of motorway this was a slow and complicated process that took several hours. At 1345 North West Motorway Police Group, Highways England’s RCC and Lancashire Police conferred with Lancashire Fire & Rescue as to whether it would be possible to open a lane past the scene of the incident to help try and speed up the process. Lancashire Fire & Rescue agreed and the trapped traffic was cleared by 14:30. At 15:00 it was agreed that the lane could remain open past the scene and the motorway reopened. This would assist alleviating the significant delays on the M6 southbound between J35 and J34 waiting to come off the motorway on to the diversion route.
It was important to ensure that the remains of the HGV and its load were sufficiently cool enough for contractors to handle. Lancashire Fire & Rescue continued to work at the scene damping down the HGV until 15:00 when they determined the fire was fully extinguished and would not re-ignite and the vehicle was safe to be removed. The scene was then handed over to Highways England to undertake the recovery, clean-up and repair of the road.
Our contractors worked at the scene to remove the burnt out 44 tonne load and then recover the significantly damaged lorry. In order to provide a safe working environment whilst this was done it was necessary to keep 2 lanes closed past the scene.
At 1700 the load and lorry had been successfully removed from the scene and inspections of the road surface could be made to determine how much damage had been done and what level of repair to the road surface was needed. There was no damage to the middle lane of the motorway and therefore it was reopened to traffic. However the inside lane and hard shoulder of the motorway had suffered significant damage and therefore it was determined the road surface would need to be fully removed and a new surface installed. It should be noted that motorway road surfaces need to be of a higher standard than other roads given the volume and types of vehicles they have to take, as a result the complete removal and relaying of a motorway is an extensive operation. Highways England contractors commenced work and the replacement of the road surface was completed overnight of the 27/28 January 2016.
Once it was confirmed the road would remain closed for some time Highways England’s National Traffic Operations Centre (NTOC) set messages on our electronic Variable Message Signs (VMS) on the M6 southbound as far back as the Scottish border to advise road users of the closure. In addition they contacted Transport Scotland who provided additional messages on the VMS they control on the southbound M74 north of the border.
In addition Highways England’s National Incident Liaison Officers (NILOs) provided an incident report and regular updates on the incident via email to both the media (local and national) and independent traffic information providers of the incident and its progress. The NILOs also utilised Highways England’s social media channels to advise the travelling public of the closure and keep them apprised of the progress of the incident and the delays. They posted messages on our North West traffic information feed on Twitter. Our NILOs also set an announcement on the Breaking News section of our Traffic England website (desktop version here and the mobile version here) which detailed the diversion route above (our tweets provided a link to this Breaking News item). The Traffic England websites, along with our other mobile services (detailed here) provided a constant feed of information regarding the incident and its impact on road users — in particular the delays it was causing for road users approaching J34 (which peaked at a delay of 2 hours over normal travelling time). Even once we had a lane and then 2 lanes open past the scene the delays continued to be detected and reported in to the evening.
If you were affected by this incident Highways England would like to thank you for your patience and understanding whilst the fire, recovery, clean-up and resurfacing were completed.
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