EFFINGHAM, Ill. -- If the humorous way to avoid eating too much chocolate is to melt it, Effingham, Illinois, was the place to be.

A refrigerated semi-truck trailerload of chocolate Kit Kat bars caught fire Tuesday afternoon, burning $300,000 worth of the crunchy candy and creating a sticky mess on Interstate 57 in this southern Illinois town.

The 50-foot trailer and the truck were completely destroyed.

The rig was en route from the Hershey Company chocolate factory in southeast Pennsylvania to Edwardsville, Illinois, outside of St. Louis when a passing truck radioed the Kit Kat driver of a fire in the nose of his trailer.

Effingham Fire Chief Bob Tutko said the driver pulled over to the highway’s southbound shoulder and tried to put it out with a portable extinguisher while also attempting to unhook the trailer from the truck cab. But the intensity of the fire forced him to retreat. He escaped unharmed.

When firefighters arrived, flames and black smoke were leaping from the truck and the trailer. It took them, nearly four hours to quench the blaze and clean up the sticky mess, said Tutko.

Two of the three southbound Interstate lanes were closed, causing a two-mile backup as vehicles drove slowly past the scene in the one open lane. Fortunately, witnesses said, the wind blew the thick smoke away from the highway so it did not hinder motorists' visibility.

Chief Tutko said it was a stubborn blaze to put out due to tightly packed cardboard boxes of Kit Kats stacked throughout the trailer. A front-end loader was used to break open the trailer in order to reach inner fire pockets with water and foam retardant. Firefighters also used circular saws and a tow truck to separate the cab from the trailer.

Tutko said the fire started near the trailer’s refrigeration unit. He estimated the overall damage at $420,000, including the $300,000 in melted Kit Kat bars, which feature crispy wafers covered with milk chocolate.  The normal store price of a single Kit Kat ranges between one and two dollars.

Details for this story were contributed by the Effingham, Illinois, Daily News.

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