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Travel status elevated to orange warning level

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State highway officials were trying to determine what caused a plow truck to burst into flames Monday. No one was injured. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
State highway officials were trying to determine what caused a plow truck to burst into flames Monday. No one was injured. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Officials have elevated the county’s travel advisory status to the orange level, the state’s second-highest classification for dangerous conditions.

Hancock County Emergency Management director Larry Ervin said although road conditions have improved over the past few days, subzero temperatures remain a concern, and authorities are advising the public to avoid unnecessary travel.

Today’s high is expected to reach no warmer than about 7 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Tonight’s temperatures will hover around zero.

Officials are taking the dangerously cold temperatures seriously: School was canceled countywide today amid fears about children suffering exposure on the way to school. It was unclear whether classes would be back in session on Wednesday.

Something as simple as a breakdown or a flat tire can be life-threatening, emergency management officials said.

If a person’s car were to slide off the road or break down, forcing the driver and passengers to walk, they could be in serious danger, Ervin said.

“If they were to go out and get stuck or have any problems, the temperatures themselves are going to prove life-threatening in a short period of time,” he said. “What we’re really trying to do is encourage people not to travel if they don’t have a reason to do it.”

County officials agreed during the weekend that the county’s status should be elevated because of road conditions and drifting snow but now plan to keep the elevated status in place until temperatures rise.

“We really had two events rolled into one,” EMA deputy director Jeff Vanderwal said. “It went from the problems with the roads and just that accessibility issue which rolled into extreme temperatures.”

Street crews have worked hard to keep up.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Harry Maginity said the round-the-clock work is hard on both drivers and their vehicles. Shortly after midnight Monday, an INDOT snow plow caught fire on the way to start a route. Monday afternoon, officials were still unsure of the cause, but Maginity cited a number of mechanical problems that occur when a truck is driven constantly in inclement weather.

“You can imagine, pressed into service 24 hours a day in the type of weather we’ve had,” Maginity said. “With the type of fights that we’ve been going through, you have got some trucks waiting for big replacements or parts or whatever.”

Maginity said a staff of mechanics has been hard at work to keep the fleet ready.

“We’ve had a lot of repair going on, on the fly, to get these trucks back on the road,” he said.

Monday’s fire occurred minutes after the driver had loaded up on salt and headed out to begin his route on U.S. 40.

Maginity said the driver, who was not injured, smelled something moments before the truck’s cab began to fill with smoke.

The driver jumped out of the cab and ran back to the INDOT garage for a fire extinguisher, but when he returned, it was too late.

“It was totally engulfed in flames,” Maginity said. “There’s been no cause defined because it’s so burned up they couldn’t figure out what caused it.”

Ervin said he expects to maintain the orange-level travel advisory status until Wednesday afternoon when temperatures rise slightly. The high on Wednesday is expected about 20 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

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