Semi hauling 41,000 lbs. of meat catches on fire along I-41

Grand Chute firefighters put out a fire on a semi truck along I-41, April 8, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Grand Chute Fire Department)

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. (WLUK) -- Thousands of pounds meat went up in flames after a semi-truck caught fire on Interstate 41 north in Grand Chute.

All of the interstate's northbound lanes were closed for hours while crews cleaned up the mess.

“Forty-one thousand pounds of meat in the back end of a trailer is a little unusual, and it does add its own challenges,” said Grand Chute Fire Department chief Timothy Bantes.

The fire happened a little before 6 a.m. Monday, near the intersection of I-41 and Northland Avenue.

“We know that it started in the rear tire area,” Bantes explained. “Whether it was overheated brakes, or if it blew a tire, we’re not sure about that at this point, but we know where it started -- in that rear section of the trailer.”

The truck driver managed to get out before the fire department arrived.

It took two engines and about 4,000 gallons of water to put the blaze out, and more water actually had to be brought in.

“They were held on pallets -- the big chunks of beef, and the pallets got going, and so on and so forth,” said Bantes. “It was a refrigerated truck, so it was insulated, and the insulation got going, and that all adds to it."

While the fire was extinguished pretty quickly, Bantes said the cleanup took more than four hours and required the help of the Outagamie County Highway Department.

“You have everything that goes with that type of biohazard, if you will. You know, you have lots of meat and it cooks,” he said. “It drained some fat onto the roads, so that got slippery, and it got so hot that it damaged part of the pavement, so there was a lot to it.”

Officials say the 41,000 lbs of meat was scheduled to be dropped off at American Foods Group in Green Bay. And after the lengthy cleanup process, all of the meat was immediately taken to a landfill in Outagamie County.

As for the truck:

“The trailer was so damaged, it wasn’t like we could hook it up to a wrecker and haul it away,” said Bantes. “We actually had to cut it in two, and some got put into -- we actually had a big dumpster dropped off right next to it, and we put part of the trailer in the dumpster, and the other parts Nolte’s Service hauled away.”

The cost of the lost meat and damage to the semi-truck are still undetermined, at this time.

Firefighters are still trying to find out how the fire started.