ONE person has died after a truck carrying ethanol burst into flames on the M1 Motorway at Cooranbong on Monday.
The explosion ignited a bushfire and sparked significant delays as emergency services rushed to the scene, between Palmers and Motorway Link Road, shortly before 1pm.
They were met with a fireball as the tanker burned uncontrollably and was too dangerous for firefighters to approach.
A bushfire raged on both sides of the motorway, spreading to 16 hectares of bushland, before water-bombing helicopters joined fire crews on the ground to gain the upper hand. It was still being controlled on Monday night. There was no threat to property.
Lake Macquarie police Chief Inspector Darren Cox said three trucks and a car were involved in a crash in the lead-up to the inferno.
He said early investigations showed a truck driving south “clipped” another truck, which was parked on the side of the road.
A third truck and another car then crashed, he said.
Police confirmed that a truck driver had died but there were no further details on their identify.
"It's caused a large collision that involved a B-double as well, carrying a fairly extensive fuel load," Chief Inspector Cox said.
"A number of people have been taken to various hospitals – the drivers of those vehicles – for the purpose of mandatory blood and urine tests.
“It's necessitated for safety reasons the closure of the M1, both north and southbound.”
Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Greg Windeatt said the rear compartment of the ethanol truck "breached" and caught fire, which later spread to the middle compartment. All three trucks were set alight.
Firefighters sprayed the truck with foam and were working on a controlled burn-off of the remaining fuel before extinguishing the fire.
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"We are in the worst phase of the operation," Superintendent Windeatt said late on Monday afternoon.
An exclusion zone meant paramedics were unable to access potential patients.
The Westpac rescue helicopter was also dispatched to the scene but later returned to base. "The rear tanker of the B-double is well-alight and at this stage we are unable to access any patients," NSW Ambulance Inspector Phil Clark said.
“It is unsafe for paramedics to approach the vehicle, there's nothing we can do.”
The Transport Management Centre had reported significant delays on the M1 Motorway with traffic banked back for several kilometres. Northbound lanes were open on Monday night but southbound lanes were not expected to reopen until Tuesday morning. Police said there would be an “extensive” salvage operation. Southbound motorists were diverted onto Palmers Road, however traffic on the detour route added about two hours to the trip.
Crash investigators remained on the scene on Monday night.