Fatal crash causes 'significant' fuel spill, closes Hwy 3 at Kootenay Pass until Friday

An Alberta man has died and a significant amount of fuel has spilled in a tanker crash on Highway 3, at the bottom of the Kootenay Pass between Salmo and Creston, B.C.

The Kootenay Pass portion of the highway has been closed in both directions, with an estimated time of reopening of 9 a.m. PT Friday.

Emergency responders say the tanker missed a turn just after 8 p.m. PT Wednesday and plunged sideways down a steep embankment into the Salmo River, near the junction with Highway 6.

The truck is now sitting in the river in a spot that is difficult to access.

One of the tanks has ruptured and fuel is flowing into the South Salmo River, according to Chris Johnson, Emergency Program Manager with the Regional District of Central Kootenay.

The fuel spill is being called "significant."

Sgt. Chad Badry of West Kootenay Traffic Services said when emergency officials arrived they found the driver dead and the smell of gas so strong they had to leave the area.

"We ended up evacuating ourselves until the environmental emergency response team could get there and determine when it would be safe to go into the scene and complete our investigation," he said.

The twin tanker was reportedly carrying 40,000 litres of gasoline and as much as 10,000 litres of diesel.

Bob Keating/CBC
Bob Keating/CBC

There are a few scattered homes and cabins downstream, south and east of the accident. Johnson says if residents have their own water system they will smell the fuel.

He says downstream users of the river system are being notified, including communities in Washington State.

Emergency response teams are on scene to figure out how to pump the remaining fuel out of the wreck.

The few residents in the area are being advised to not drink local ground water.

A detour is available using Highway 3A and the Kootenay Lake Ferry, which is running a smaller boat than normal due to repairs.

Officials say there will be long lineups getting across Kootenay Lake between Kootenay Bay and Balfour until Highway 3 re-opens.