A main route into Death Valley National Park was closed for several days this week after a tractor-trailer loaded with hay caught fire on a road that is supposed to be off limits to commercial vehicles.
According to park officials, the truck was headed toward Las Vegas on U.S. Highway 95 on May 11 when the driver made a wrong turn in Beatty and entered Death Valley on Daylight Pass Road.
Park rangers later found the truck and its cargo engulfed in flames on the west side of Daylight Pass.
The 44-year-old driver from El Cajon, California, was taken by ambulance to a hospital with unspecified injuries. Heavy equipment was brought in to spread out and cool down the burning hay, but it continued to smolder for several days. As a result Daylight Pass Road in Mud Canyon remained closed until Wednesday.
Park officials said it was the latest in a string of accidents involving tractor-trailers driving in areas that are closed to commercial vehicles. In January, a frozen food truck overturned in the same general area, and in August a truck hauling bottled water also caught fire on Daylight Pass Road.
California Route 190 is the only road through Death Valley that is open to commercial traffic, but even it poses a hazard to tractor-trailers as it descends 5,000 feet from Towne Pass with steep grades of up to 9.3 percent.
“Every truck driver I’ve ever talked to who decided to drive through the park that didn’t have to regretted their decision after the fact due to the extreme road conditions found here,” said Death Valley Superintendent Mike Reynolds in a written statement.
Park officials said rangers routinely cite drivers for operating commercial vehicles on park roads, but the problem persists.