Tanker fire: A truck hauling 9,000 gallons of gasoline burst into flames Wednesday afternoon on the Pomona Freeway — State Route 60 — and melted the Paramount Boulevard Bridge in Montebello, about 12 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
The freeway, which has been closed since the accident, is one of the busiest arteries in the metropolitan area, especially for commuters coming from eastern Los Angeles County and adjoining Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
• A gasoline tanker exploded and burst into flames on the Pomona Freeway — Highway 60 — under the Paramount Boulevard overpass.
• The heat melted the bottom of the overpass. Pieces of concrete crashed to the freeway below.
• The truck driver escaped without injury.
• The busy freeway was closed for several days. The overpass has to be demolished and rebuilt.
The explosion and fire, which investigators believe was caused by overheated brakes or possibly some other mechanical failure, occurred just after noon, according to an ABC News report. There was no collision.
The heat and intense blaze melted the truck and burned a crater into the freeway. A loud explosion was heard as the fire cracked the overpass, sending chunks of concrete crashing down onto the freeway below.
“The explosion that witnesses most likely heard was the concrete in the bridge exploding from the extreme heat,” California Highway Patrol spokesman Saul Gomez said later at a press conference.
Miraculously, the driver — and reportedly one passenger — escaped the truck without injury.
Plumes of thick black smoke completely shrouded the area, according to CBS News. Firefighters worked frantically to extinguish the flames. It took more than an hour. When the fire was out, emergency crews were able to see that there was no concrete left on the bottom of the overpass.
Officials closed the freeway between Interstate 710 and Rosemead. As Caltrans assessed the damage, the story grew worse. Thursday night, workers discovered that the freeway overpass contained fiber-optic cables “that house potentially hazardous material,” Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler told the Los Angeles Times.
The cables were encased in plastic tubing that contained asbestos. Cutting the cables, which ran the length of the overpass, would have disrupted phone service for nearby businesses and homes and may have released the hazardous asbestos. Yet the overpass must be at least partially demolished in order to repair or replace it.
Officials were waiting to hear from Caltrans authorities in Sacramento to determine how to proceed. Meanwhile, the freeway remained closed.
The accident made headlines all over the world. Here is a brief video of the blazing tanker:
And here are more photos. Click on a thumbnail to see the image full-size:
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