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Tanker Truck Accident Wreaks Havoc in Los Angeles

by Jana Ritter - Published: 7/15/2013

If the Monday morning commute in Los Angeles isn't already bad enough, today it was much worse. Traffic is at a snail's paced snarl as a section of Interstate 5 near downtown Los Angeles remains closed after a tanker truck carrying fuel rolled and caught fire on Saturday.

Losangeles fire

The incident caused by a tanker truck with 8,500 gallons of fuel was reported Saturday about 10:30 a.m. The truck's driver, 52-year-old Jose A. Castanon of Bellflower, told firefighters at the tunnel that his tanker truck had blown a tire and wiped out in the tunnel, igniting the fuel. While he escaped with minor injuries, the accident had a snowball effect on the area.

The fuel spilled out into the tunnel and caused a fire so intense that it rendered the structure's concrete brittle. Firefighters faced furnace-like conditions Saturday as they doused the blaze with foam and water for more than an hour. “Firefighters did an outstanding job battling multiple challenges on a single incident,” LAFD spokesman Erik Scott said Sunday. “A traffic collision, vegetation fire, an inferno in a tunnel, and 8,500 gallons of gasoline spilling into storm drains and the L.A. River.”

But although the firemen were able to put out the blaze, the damaging effects of the incident did not stop there. A major section of the Interstate 5 and SR-2 were closed immediately causing traffic to back up everywhere. Almost 300,000 vehicles per day use the Golden State Freeway through the area, according to Caltrans figures and as word of the fire spread, traffic on the parallel Hollywood (101) Freeway quickly jammed Saturday and all day Sunday as well.

“We are pushing as hard as we can to open the lanes of SR-2 and I-5 to traffic for Tuesday’s morning commute,” said Acting District 7 Deputy District Director of Maintenance John Yang. “Motorists should consider public transit and alternate routes around this area.” The repairs are quite extensive and some closers may be long-term.

If that's not bad enough, the gasoline spilled into the Los Angeles River and underground systems as well. The Los Angeles River smelled like gasoline after the fire, although much of the gasoline that flowed from tunnels into it had been allowed to burn off. However, the impact on wildlife, trees and marshes in the green river bottom, recently opened as a wilderness park, is still being assessed.

Concerns were raised Saturday about an "extreme public hazard" at storm drains and manhole covers due to "potentially explosive runoff". While the LAFD was working with local, state and federal environmental officials to assess the extent of the damage, officials advised residents in the surrounding communities that there were vapor smells in the area. "We are warning people in the area to avoid storm drains and manhole covers," the Los Angeles police said in a community alert.

California Department of Transportation spokesman Patrick Chandler said all northbound lanes of the freeway will remain closed until Tuesday, as will two southbound lanes at the underpass connecting I-5 and State Route 2.