A tractor-trailer hauling a load of fruit caught fire on Interstate 5 near Moonlight Beach shortly before sunrise Thursday, tangling traffic on the regional arterial for hours and leaving the driver of the big rig with minor injuries.
The northbound semi began burning for unknown reasons south of Leucadia Boulevard in Encinitas about 5:30 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.
Realizing that his vehicle was smoking, the driver pulled over, got out and was checking on the flames when one of the rear tires burst due to the blaze.
Medics took him to a hospital for treatment of minor facial lacerations from debris sent flying by the explosion, Encinitas Fire Battalion Chief Mike Spaulding said.
Firefighters arrived to find flames spreading from the rear axle of the rig to the middle of the trailer, which contained strawberries in plastic boxes. The crews, who had to unload some of the cartons so they could get to the fire in the middle of the cargo compartment, had put out the flames by 6 a.m., Spaulding said.
The fire forced intermittent closures of the two right-hand northbound lanes in the area through the morning. They were reopened shortly after 7 a.m., then shut down again about 2 1/2 hours later to allow the charred tractor- trailer to be towed away, CHP public-affairs Officer Jim Bettencourt said.
As of 10 a.m., traffic still was heavily backed up to the south past Villa de la Valle in the Del Mar area.
The stretch of interstate was fully open again as of 12:45 p.m., the Highway Patrol reported.
–Updated at 2:05 p.m. May 16, 2019
–City News Service