EFFINGHAM — An estimated $300,000 worth of Kit Kat candy bars were destroyed in a semi tractor-trailer fire Tuesday afternoon, according the Effingham Fire Chief Bob Tutko.

Tutko said that according to the semi driver, who is from Texas, the unit was loaded with the chocolates and was coming from the Hershey chocolate factory in Pennsylvania. The driver reported that he was alerted to a fire at the nose of his trailer near the mounted refrigerator unit by a passing truck driver as he was traveling south on Interstate 57 near the Fayette Ave. exit around 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

Tutko said by the time the driver was able to pull to the shoulder, the fire had engulfed the front of the trailer and the rear dual tires of the truck-tractor. He said the driver attempted to put the fire out with a portable fire extinguisher, but was unsuccessful. He also tried to disconnect the truck-tractor from the trailer, but the fire had intensified, forcing the driver to retreat.

When Effingham firefighters arrived on scene, the truck-tractor was fully involved as was a majority of the trailer, Tutko said. The Shumway Fire Protection District also responded with an engine crew and water tender due to a recently initiated automatic aid agreement between the two departments in an effort to make responses to interstate incidents more efficient.

Tutko described the blaze as "stubborn" because of tightly packed cardboard boxes stacked in the trailer. Water and foam concrete were used to reach the deep seated pockets of the fire with little success, so Tutko said Tri-Power Towing and Recovery was called in to pull the load apart with a front end loader.

Crews were on the scene for nearly four hours assisting with clean up efforts, Tutko said, and Tri-Power crews used circular saws to cut apart the trailer and separate the cab from the trailer with the aid of a heavy-duty rotator wrecker.

Tutko said the damage estimate includes approximately $75,000 for the 2018 Freightliner truck-tractor and $45,000 for the 2018 refrigerated trailer, as reported by the semi driver. In total, including the loss of the Kit Kats, Tutko said he estimates damages at a cost of around $420,000.

The fire was classified as accidental, Tutko said, and the cause of the fire is unknown. Tutko said the fire started in the area of the trailer refrigeration unit.

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