Two semi truck caught fire on Interstate 5 Tuesday, one driver faces months of recovery from burns he sustained in the crash. (Courtesy/Oregon State Police)

While the fiery crash Tuesday between two semi trucks near Woodburn is expected to keep a lane of Interstate 5 closed through Wednesday night, a Salem man with severe burns on half his body faces a long road to recovery.

Rex Hollopeter, 51, could spend months recovering from injuries at the hospital. He was reportedly the driver of one the semi truck that sideswiped another around 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to Oregon State Police.

Michael Nova, a longtime friend of Hollopeter, said the driver suffered severe burns on his legs and back and faces losing his hand. It’s difficult, Nova said, because in 20 years of friendship he’s watched Hollopeter overcome addiction and become active in the drugs and alcohol recovery community.

“As long as I’ve known him, he’s been on that path of doing the right stuff,” Nova said. “He had a past where that wasn’t the important thing to him and he’s trying to make up for that now.”

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Hollopeter’s semi truck caught fire after the crash, blocking all southbound lanes. The other semi truck’s occupants — Gagandeep Singh, 24 and Baljit Singh, 38, both of California — had pulled over when they noticed their vehicle was on fire. Both were outside of the semitrailer and uninjured when the two semi trucks went up in a blaze, according to OSP.

The southbound right lane was closed from milepost 275 to 273 for more than a day as crews from the Oregon Department of Transportation repaired it.

Hollopeter, who has been a semi truck driver for more than 15 years, was flown to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.

Nova said he received phone calls almost immediately after the accident happened. He said Hollopeter has given back to the community, helping out the homeless by handing out blankets.

 “It’s a two-way street he gives back to the community and the community gives back to him in his time of need,” he said. “You don’t just happen on to the community by accident, you have to develop that and work at that.”

Nova said Hollopeter has friend and family checking on him, and he plans to drive up to Portland Wednesday night to see him. He said Hollopeter has been saving up money to move into a new house.

“He had all these plans and this kind of just threw a big wrench in there for him,” Nova said.

Friends have started a fundraiser for Hollopeter.

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