Oregon Highway 58 east of Oakridge was deemed safe to reopen Sunday morning, 12 hours after a fiery multi-car crash that burned so hot, part of the cement walls peeled off, Oregon State Police reported. Fortunately, no deaths or life-threatening injuries were reported.
According to OSP Trooper Nicholas Hagedorn, around 9:20 p.m., OSP, local fire departments and ODOT personnel responded to a reported motor vehicle fire on Highway 58 near milepost 57 at the tunnel's east side. Upon arrival, it was learned that four vehicles were involved, but all occupants were out of their vehicles.
A preliminary investigation indicated a 1983 Cruiseaier motor home towing a Volkswagen Bug was being driven by Ricky Sikel, 57, from Centrailia, Washington eastbound when the motor home's engine overheated.
As it lost power and started to smoke, Sikel brought it to a stop inside the tunnel just before it exited the east end.
Due to heavy smoke and limited visibility, a 1996 Ford van towing a small boat trailer driven by Thomas Hunn, 67, from Dexter, struck the rear of the Volkswagen and rolled onto its side.
Shortly after that collision, an eastbound 1993 Chevrolet Suburban crashed into the boat trailer, Hagedorn said.
The occupants of the involved vehicles escaped before the motor home, Volkswagen, and van were engulfed in flames.
Highway 58 was completely blocked and the fire burned for about an hour before it was extinguished by fire personnel from Oakridge Fire Department, Crescent and Central Cascade EMS, and the U.S. Forest Service.
The motor home was occupied by four adults, one child and two small dogs. The Ford van had two occupants. Information on the occupants in the Chevrolet Suburban is pending, but troopers did confirm two occupants, including a juvenile, were taken to a Lane County hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
ODOT handled traffic control and the tunnel was not reopened until around 9 a.m., after a structural engineer deemed it safe for traffic to continue through.
The fire inside the tunnel got so hot that part of the cement tunnel walls peeled off and the lighting system was destroyed.
OSP troopers from Oakridge and Springfield offices responded along with ODOT personnel from Oakridge, La Pine, and Chemult.