M2 Closure J6-J5 Westbound, Kent, Friday 22nd July 2016
The M2 in Kent was closed westbound between J6 (Faversham, Ashford, A251) and J5 (Maidstone, Sheerness, A259) due to an HGV carrying hale bales that caught fire. The road remained closed throughout the day as the fire took several hours to bring under control and fully extinguish. Due to the significant damage to the HGV in the fire it also took some time to be recovered and the debris from the incident to be cleared.
At approximately 1018 on the morning of Friday 22nd July Kent Fire & Rescue Service received a number of 999 calls from motorists reporting a a HGV on the M2 westbound between J6 and J5 was on fire. Early reports from passing motorists were that this was a significant fire and as such Kent Fire & Rescue Service despatched units to the scene at 1019 and advised Highways England’s South East Regional Control Centre of the incident.
Highways England operators at the control room found the incident on CCTV quickly and confirmed the location and significance of the fire.
The control room operators despatched at Highways England Traffic Officer patrol at 1021 and set electronic motorway signals on approach to the incident to encourage road users to pass the scene in lane 2 until emergency services could arrive on the scene and assess how best to deal with the fire and manage traffic. Kent Police were also advised of the incident and despatched officers to the scene.
The first unit on scene was a Kent Police patrol which arrived at approximately 1035 and confirmed that the vehicle was full size HGV transporting large hay bales and that the fire was signficant and spreading quickly to affect the HGV’s fuel tank and tractor unit. They also confirmed that the driver of the vehicle was out and safely away from the scene. The police also requested that traffic be held from passing the fire and that a full closure of road may be required.
Kent Fire & Rescue Service units arrived on scene at approximately 1040 and they requested further units to attend to assist in dealing with what was now a signficant fire.
The decision to close the road was made at 1100 by Kent Fire & Rescue Service and Highways England South East Regional Control Centre requested road maintenance contractors from their Kent area attend to assist with the closure, the management of traffic and assist with the any clean-up, recovery and repairs to the road which would be required.
An emergency diversion route was established. Road users were advised to exit at J6 and follow the route marked out on local road signs with a solid square symbol. This route took traffic on the A251 southbound in the direction towards Badlesmere. Once past Badlesmere at the junction with the A252 traffic would turn right to travel on the A252 in the direction towards Charing. At the roundabout at Charing traffic would take the A20 westbound in the direction towards Maidstone and then join the M20 westbound at J8. Exit the M20 at J7 and join the A249 northbound and continue on this road to re-join the M2 westbound at J5.
At 1150 Kent Fire & Rescue Service advised that the fire had been dampened down sufficiently to allow traffic trapped between the closure at J6 and the scene (which was just prior to J5) could be released past the scene. Due to the amount of traffic trapped within the closure it was also decided to try and remove traffic from the rear of the queue by turning vehicles around at the back and allowing them to flow the wrong way on the motorway back to J6 and join the diversion route. Highways England Traffic Officers facilitated this but there was a significant amount of traffic to clear and given that this section of motorway is only 2 lanes wide it took some time to clear everyone. However all trapped traffic was clear by 1300.
Despite the best efforts of the units from Kent Fire & Rescue the fire continued to burn for several hours and required several bowsers of water to be attend the incident to replenish the tenders being used by the fire service.
At approximately 1430 our control centre were advised that there had been collision on the diversion route and that this route would need to be closed. This incident and the rural nature of the diversion route meant that road users being diverted off of the M2 experienced significant and severe delays throughout the day. In response to the closure of the diversion route the decision was made to take traffic off of the M2 at J7 and continue their journey on the ‘old’ A2 towards Sittingbourne. Re-join the M2 at J5 via the A249 at Bobbing. This route also became heavily congested throughout the day also.
Kent Fire & Rescue declared the fire extinguished and the lorry was cool enough to allow it to be approached and recovered at 1829. Firstly the remains of the burnt hay bales needed to be removed and then the burnt out remains of the lorry could be dealt with.
The load was moved from the vehicle on to the road so that it could be removed separately and efforts to remove the HGV could commence. The HGV was recovered by 1930 but whilst it was being moved it became apparent that the fuel tank had been damaged in the fire and this resulted in the diesel it contained leaking out in to the road. This would need to be dealt with before the road could be reopened. The remains of the hay bales continued to be cleared and this took some time to finish. The hay was removed by 2130 and the road swept for any remaining small bits of debris. Prompt work following the diesel spill by our on site clean-up crews had meant that the spillage had been contained and we could re-open lane 2 past the scene whilst the last of the clean-up was finished. The spilt diesel in lane 1 was removed and the road surface treated and cleaned allowing it to be reopened by 2230.
Throughout the duration of the incident our National Traffic Operations Centre (NTOC) constantly monitored the traffic delays on the approach to the closure at J6 and further afield. Our traffic monitoring systems indicated that road users were experiencing peak average delay of 1 hour over normal journey times between J7 and J6. In addition to this third party traffic monitoring indicated that there were significant delays on the diversion routes (both the initial route and the later alternative). Highways England’s duty National Incident Liaison Officers (located at NTOC) utilised social media (specifically our @HighwaysSEAST twitter account) to inform road users of what was happening and what to expect. In addition the incident was shown on our www.trafficengland.com website. Our National Incident Liaison Officers also ensured that the local and national media were apprised of the incident and kept regularly updated as to its progress throughout the day to ensure all available means to advise the public of this closure and its impact were used.
The nature and size of the load and the fact it burnt for some time and resulted in the HGV needing time to cool before it could be recovered necessitated this protracted closure. Highways England would like to thank motorists for their patience throughout.
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