He is known as “Panda” and he was meant to be enjoying his birthday with a trouble-free trip to the Gold Coast in his big rig, which was carrying a load of building waste.
The first leg from Sydney had been smooth enough. Panda was looping back via the New England Highway to refuel at Beresfield at lunchtime when another truck driver pulled up beside him and frantically gestured at his B-double trailer.
“He was pointing at my the rear of my truck, I looked and there was smoke everywhere,” Panda said.
With seconds to spare he ditched the truck on the roadside, grabbed a few personal items and ran.
Moments later the rig was engulfed in flames to the horror of passing motorists.
“I don’t know who he was but the young bloke who helped me out ... I just can’t thank him enough,” Panda said.
“It’s my birthday and this is a pretty big candle to blow out.”
An excavator was used to break open the truck’s trailer so the smouldering load of building waste that had ignited in the blaze could be extinguished.
All westbound lanes on the New England Highway were closed and traffic was diverted via John Renshaw Drive and Weakleys Drive.
Emergency crews remained on the scene during the afternoon before the road was reopened at 6pm.
Billowing black smoke could be seen as far away as Hexham and Maitland at the height of the blaze.
The cause of the fire is yet to be determined, however, it is believed it started near the left-hand rear axle of the rear trailer.
Among those first on the scene was Gurtaj Singh who was driving behind the flaming rig.
“I pulled over. There was another fellow already there who was helping him to get his things out of the truck,” he said.
“Then there was a blast that scared everyone. The whole back end of the truck was on fire. It was a big fire.”
Fire crews and emergency services were on the scene within 10 minutes.
“They did a great job. Everyone is safe thanks to them,” Mr Singh said.
Panda was organising a lift back to Sydney late Wednesday.
Last week the M1 Motorway at Wollongong was closed for almost an entire day after a tanker carrying 36,000 litres of unleaded fuel burst into flames.