Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Why on earth did it take 21 hours to remove a burnt-out lorry from a busy motorway?

Lorry on fire
Lorry on fire

How long does it take to move a lorry?

The answer, if it goes on fire on the M1 between Moira and Lurgan, seems to be an astonishing 21 hours.

Motorists have blasted the authorities for the staggering delay in moving the vehicle hours after the blaze which destroyed it was extinguished.

There were tailbacks for several miles during rush hour yesterday morning when the Belfast-bound carriageway was reduced to one lane. The disruption lasted well into the afternoon after both lanes were then closed to remove the wreckage.

The lorry – containing wooden flat-pack furniture – caught fire at around 6pm on Wednesday evening but was not removed from the busy route until 3.30pm yesterday afternoon.

It was then closed again at 9pm last night for resurfacing work.

Dolores Kelly MLA, who got caught up in the traffic chaos, said it was a "complete disgrace".

"I cannot believe this has happened. I was stuck in traffic for ages.

"I really think this is madness and scandalous that this has happened and taken so long," she said.

"If there was an emergency, say a kidney being transported, what would happen?"

It's believed the blaze was started accidentally with a fault in one of the lorry's wheels causing it to overheat.

The steel structure and chassis of the 40-foot double-deck vehicle were all that remained following the intense fire. Ironically, motorists were inconvenienced again last night when another lorry caught fire on the A5 Old Omagh Road in Ballygawley.

Last night the Roads Service said the closure of the motorway during the first fire was the responsibility of the PSNI. But the police said its responsibility lay with the safety of road users and removal of the vehicle was the prerogative of a recovery team. Police said the safety of road users was paramount and they had been guided by the recovery team as to how long it would take to remove the vehicle from the side of the busy motorway.

Ms Kelly said it was "incomprehensible in this day and age that something like this, on such a busy road, cannot be sorted out quickly".

"It was very close to Lurgan, only about half-a-mile, and there must have been a way to get it moved quicker," said the SDLP Assemblywoman.

According to William Weir of the Fire Service, putting out the fire was made difficult due to the wood on board, hundreds of litres of fuel and the difficulty in accessing water for the fire tenders.

Last night the Roads Service said one lane of the eastbound carriage would be closed from 9pm to 6am this morning, and a "signed diversion for eastbound traffic via Lurgan and Moira" would remain in operation.

How drama unfolded, and rumbled on

Wednesday

6.20pm: Lorry fire (right) on hard shoulder of M1 between Lurgan and Moira. Road closed eastbound

6.26pm: Three fire crews and aerial unit arrive on scene

Thursday

1am: Fire Service extinguish blaze

5.30am-9.30am: M1 heading into Belfast down to one lane between junctions nine and 10

11.20am: Eastbound road closed again completely to traffic between junctions

11.30am: Recovery team removes tractor unit/fire crews arrive to extinguish smouldering material

12.30pm: Recovery crews continue to cut trailer unit into sections to be removed

3.30pm: Road reopened

9pm: Road is once again closed while "resurfacing" and repairs are made

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