The Montana Department of Transportation incident report page blew up with tiny red markers over the past few days. Each marker indicates an accident and they spread over the page of Montana highways like confetti at a New Year’s Eve party.
On Saturday the Frenchtown Fire Department received 10 calls from 2 a.m. until 11:45 p.m. Spokesperson, Mel Holtz said the roads appeared dry but the bridge decks had moisture build up and freeze, causing patches of black ice.
Volunteer firefighters and other personnel were scrambling up and down the corridor attending to accidents, but with only one injury that sent a man to the Missoula hospital. It was the driver of a semi-truck which flipped onto its side. The truck was carrying apples and the refrigeration coolant leaked onto the highway, causing Interstate 90 near mile marker 65 to have a lane closed for nearly an hour and a half.
Six accidents occurred in that stretch on Saturday evening, which also included an SUV hauling a trailer that flipped on its side. Most incidents occurred between mile markers 65 and 78.
A vehicle also went off the road up Deep Creek and Southside Road early Sunday morning. The Frenchtown Rural Fire Department received a call about an illegal bonfire and personnel were responding when they came upon a group of people on the road, which responders said “was a sheet of ice.”
They told the firefighters that a vehicle had gone down the embankment, which Holtz said was at about an 80 degree slope. They set up a rope rescue system and descended over 200 feet to reach the vehicle; however the driver was not at the scene. He was later located by law enforcement and was found safe.
There was also a multi-vehicle accident near mile marker 80 on Interstate 90 on Thursday evening, Nov. 2, blocking eastbound lanes. No injuries were reported and one lane of traffic was opened as wreckers arrived on the scene to remove the vehicles.
Holtz said one of the biggest fears is dealing with traffic as emergency crews respond on the scene of an accident. Montana has a law that requires oncoming traffic to move to the side when there are emergency vehicles on the road, but “it gets pretty scary when they are attending to injured people and there have been several near misses in the past between responders and oncoming traffic.” Holtz reminds the public to slow down and give responders plenty of room to work.
“There’s always a lot of accidents early in the winter season,” said Holtz. “This year it seems earlier than usual and it just takes time for people to get into a winter mind-set. Just remember to allow yourself extra travel time and use caution.”
He also reminds the public to travel with survival equipment in case of an emergency, which includes warm blankets and clothing, matches, food, flashlights and cat litter in case the vehicle becomes stuck.