Fatal semi truck crash, fire closes I-90, causes evacuations near Cle Elum

SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. — Homes were evacuated and I-90 was closed in both directions after a semi truck that was involved in a crash that killed one person near Cle Elum caught fire and leaked anhydrous ammonia.

On Wednesday evening, officials identified the person killed in the crash as the driver of the semi truck. An estimated 500 pounds of anhydrous ammonia was released.

Eastbound I-90 at mile point 84 was reopened by about 2:30 p.m. Westbound I-90 at mile point 106 remained closed.

By 8 p.m., westbound I-90 in the area had reopened to traffic.

Latest developments:

  • I-90 was closed between Cle Elum, Ellensburg in both directions 
  • EB and WB I-90 now reopened
  • Driver of semi truck killed in crash between car, semi
  • Semi carrying anhydrous ammonia tanks
  • One tank is leaking
  • Evacuations near Cle Elum
  • PHOTOS: Fatal semi crash closes I-90, causes ammonia leak

A car and the semi truck crashed in the westbound lanes of I-90 about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, near SR 970, about one mile east of Cle Elum.

The Washington State Patrol said one person was killed in the crash.

Ammonia leak causes evacuations

The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office said the truck had been carrying tanks of anhydrous ammonia. Four tanks fell off the truck during the crash, but only one tank was actually venting ammonia. A small fire that broke out during the crash is out and the other three tanks were stable by Wednesday afternoon.

People in homes or businesses a mile downwind of the truck in the Cle Elum area were being advised to close windows and turn off HVAC systems. Both the eastbound and westbound Indian John rest areas and adjacent homes were evacuated.

On Wednesday evening, officials said an estimated 500 pounds of anhydrous ammonia had been released.

Dangers of ammonia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas or liquid with pungent, suffocating fumes that is used as an agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant.

The CDC says:

When handled improperly, anhydrous ammonia can be immediately dangerous to life or health. As liquid anhydrous ammonia is released from its container into the air, it expands rapidly, forming a large cloud that acts like a heavier-than-air gas for a period of time.

Symptoms of anhydrous ammonia exposure include:

  • eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • breathing difficulty, wheezing, or chest pain
  • pulmonary edema, pink frothy sputum
  • burns, blisters and frostbite.
  • Exposure can be fatal at high concentrations.

Alternate routes

Traffic was stopped westbound at Ellensburg and eastbound at exit 84 Wednesday near Cle Elum.

By 2:30 p.m., eastbound traffic on I-90 in the area had reopened. Westbound traffic remained closed.

Westbound traffic on I-90 in the area had reopened by 8 p.m.

Detours are SR 10, SR 970, and US 97. Drivers crossing the Cascades will need to use US 2, SR 20 or US 12.

The Washington State Patrol, the Washington State Department of Transportation and fire department were at the scene and a containment area was established Wednesday afternoon.