Interstate 10 near Ahwatukee was shut down early Wednesday morning after a dairy tanker rear-ended another tanker truck carrying a diesel gas by-product, according to the Department of Public Safety.
The driver of the dairy truck, identified as Rodney Payne, 55, died in the crash, DPS officials said.
The collision happened on the westbound I-10 near Chandler Boulevard, forcing a closure of the freeway in both directions until 2:10 p.m. on Wednesday when the eastbound side was opened.
Westbound I-10 remained closed until 4:30 a.m. Thursday, after crews working for the Arizona Department of Transportation removed the damaged pavement and resurfaced the 150-foot-long section that was damaged in the fiery crash.
The Phoenix Fire Department asked residents within a 1-mile radius to stay in their homes until the fire was put out around 10 a.m.
Horizon Community Learning Center began evacuating at 8:45 a.m. after Phoenix police came by the school and advised them to do so.
Melissa Hartley, spokesperson for the school, said junior high and high school students were moved to the gymnasium and elementary students waited in their classrooms for their parents to pick them up.
"(Phoenix police) came by and said any business and organization in a 1-mile radius was to evacuate," Hartley said. "We're done for the day. We contacted all the parents and told them to come pick your kids up. Meanwhile, all the kids stayed inside."
Kyrene del Milenio Elementary School did not evacuate.
"We were getting conflicting reports at first," Kyrene spokesperson Nancy Dudenhoefer said. "Then we contacted Phoenix fire and police, and they said it was not necessary to evacuate.
"When an emergency situation occurs, we have a team here with representatives from health, transportation, food services, facilities, and instructional services. There is a crisis team meeting and then we start monitoring the situation together."
Eric Massey, director of the Air Quality Division for Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said his department's role in these types of situations is to be an advisor to first responders.
"Our role was to advise that group about the smoke plume that was being generated from the fire and, in a lesser perspective, cleanup issues. We mostly just wanted to give them a sense of what our expertise would be in this situation," Massey said in a statement. "We're not a first response agency, we just aid those that would respond first.
"The incident command did do an evacuation and the reason for that was largely the potential for an explosion. There was some concern about the volatility of the tanker truck that was carrying fuel," he continued. "From an air quality perspective, the fire was burning nice and hot. We say that was a good thing because you're getting a lot of loft to the plume. That smoke is going well into the atmosphere. As it goes up into the atmosphere it actually becomes less concentrated for any pollution.
"If you have to have a fire, or there's a fire that cannot be immediately controlled, the risk of public health was lower as a result of that so it was good."
Massey said most of the immediate health risks would have come at the time of the fire and the potential exposure to smoke.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety has been notified by the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner that they have identified the drivers.
Payne, a Mesa resident, was hauling an empty milk truck owned by Western Dairy Transportation and was traveling back to Phoenix from the Casa Grande area that morning.
The driver of the tanker truck was Valentino Haley, 29 years old from New Mexico. Haley was uninjured during the collision.
The family is requesting privacy at this time.