A truck hauling ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded in western Ouachita County about 7:05 a.m. Wednesday. The truck driver was killed.
Arkansas State Police said that remains believed to be those of the driver, Randall McDougal, 63, of El Dorado, were recovered. The remains are being sent to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for positive identification.
Three City of Camden firefighters and a Camden Fairview School District bus driver all received minor injuries.
The blast blew a 15-foot-deep crater into U.S. 278, the Arkansas Department of Transportation said. A 10-mile stretch of U.S. 278 west of Camden remains closed until further notice.
The ASP said McDougal was employed by Blann Trucking Company of Hampton, the owner of the vehicle that was carrying ammonium nitrate from El Dorado to Texarkana.
Area fire department personnel were notified about 6:40 a.m. Wednesday that the truck brakes of the commercial carrier truck believed to be driven by McDougal were on fire. McDougal was attempting to extinguish the blaze.
The first fire department personnel on the scene had begun to evacuate residents who live in the area and reportedly witnessed McDougal return to the truck when it exploded, the ASP said in a statement.
The concussion from the explosion was heard or felt for many miles, including people living in Magnolia, El Dorado and Camden. Magnolia is about 22 straight miles from the scene.
ARDOT said the incident happened on U.S. 278 about 1.3 miles east of Arkansas 57. The roads intersect between Stephens and Chidester. U.S. 278 between Arkansas 57 and Arkansas 375.
A portion of Arkansas 24 was closed briefly but has since reopened.
ProMed Ambulance Service reported on its Facebook page that first responders were already on the scene of the truck fire when the explosion happened. ProMed said all responders have been accounted for. Minor injuries were reported among them.
A Camden Fairview School District bus at the start of its Wednesday route drove upon the scene. With his way blocked by first responders, the driver was turning the bus around when the explosion happened. There were no students on the bus but the bus received damage. The driver had minor injuries.
Ouachita Electric Cooperative said that the explosion knocked out service to 295 customers in western Ouachita and eastern Nevada counties. Service has been restored.
The force of the explosion registered on the helicorder stationed at nearby White Oak Lake State Park. The helicorder is part of the Arkansas Seismic Network, installed to monitor earthquake activity related to the New Madrid Fault.
The Ouachita County Sheriff’s Office secured the scene. The area near the intersection is sparsely populated. A one-mile radius around the scene was evacuated initially, but it was later expanded to include a wider area.
Sheriff David Norwood identified responding agencies, including Camden Fire and Rescue, Ouachita County EMS, Ouachita County Emergency Management, Ouachita County Judge McAdoo, Stephens Fire Department, Stephens Police Department, Chidester Fire Department, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Forestry Service, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, Arkansas Department of Transportation, Arkansas Department of Transportation, Ouachita Electric and others.
Norwood said in a statement that ArDOT is working non-stop to repair the roadway. The Highway 24/4 Water Association is also working to repair a damaged water line.
Hazardous material handling teams also responded.
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound that is commonly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. It is also a component of explosive mixtures used in mining and manufacturing.
Readers of the Magnolia Reporter page on Facebook reported initial impressions of an explosion or an earthquake.
People closer to the event reported hearing a rumbling noise and felt the earth shake. People further away mentioned feeling or seeing the effects of a shock wave as it rattled houses and their contents.
Many people made note of the reaction of pets, such as dogs barking although they were dozens of miles away.