Loss Control Warning: Tire Fire Destroys Tractor

How the Incident Occurred

As several cars passed by him on the interstate, a tractor-trailer driver noticed occupants waving to get his attention and pointing to the rear of his unit. He realized there must be a problem when he looked in his mirror and saw the left rear tractor tandems smoking profusely and then bursting into flames! By the time he pulled his rig over onto the shoulder, the fire was so intense it rendered his DOT fire extinguisher useless. He dialed 911, stood back and watched as the fire consumed the entire reefer unit.

Injury/Damage Information

There were no injuries as a result of this incident. The conventional tractor, reefer trailer and the entire load were declared total losses. The value of the physical damage, cargo, wrecker and cleanup was in excess of $500,000.

Causative factors

The insurance company initially claimed equipment failure and subrogated against the tractor and tire manufacturers. Further examination and analysis of the destroyed equipment by a burn specialist however determined the true cause of the fire; an under-inflated drive tire. The evidence included tire casing belts wrapped tightly around the drive axle. The driver had failed to check for under-inflation before driving on it. The friction from excessive tire surface as well as the tire rubbing against the outside dual heated it up and caused it to fail, lose all pressure and wrap around the drive axle. The friction as he continued to drive generated such intense heat that the rubber ignited. Root cause analysis showed improper inspection, repair and maintenance procedures by the driver and the service department as well as lack of company safety management processes to be the ultimate causes of this incident. The insurance company’s subrogation attempts were denied and settlement awarded to the motor carrier.

Remedial actions

  • Use a tire gauge to check tire inflation properly
  • Periodically observe driver inspection procedures for compliance
  • Understand the data output of tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) on your unit
  • Tires at < 90% of recommended tire pressure are considered "flat"
  • "Run-flat" tires should be removed and inspected for damage by tire technician
  • Only allow a qualified tire technician to mount/dismount tires