Tanker-truck fire closes 710 Freeway in Commerce


Northbound lanes of the 710 were opened by about 11:30 a.m. Two southbound lanes of the 710 at Washington Blvd. were back open at 7:50 p.m.

The double tanker truck, which was transporting about 8,500 gallons of crude oil to a local roofing company, crashed into a guardrail at approximately 9:40 a.m. Caltrans says about 50 feet of the bridge railing as well as guardrail were destroyed.

Authorities say the cab and first tank of the truck flew over the edge of the freeway and dangled above a railroad yard. Both erupted into flames and then crashed into the ground with the driver inside. The second tank on the freeway also burst into flames.

A Good Samaritan rushed to the scene and pulled the driver out of the fiery wreckage. The truck driver suffered burns over 40 percent of his body. He was taken to a hospital in critical condition. The Good Samaritan suffered minor burns to his hands.

Officials say crude oil spilled, ignited and spread to the freeway and into storm drains. Video showed flames racing down the embankment of the freeway and shooting into a neighborhood.

The flames were so intense that a billboard above the freeway burned. Six vehicles on Sydney Drive were also damaged by the fire.

The burning crude oil lit up neighborhood.

"I woke up to a bunch of explosions. I smelled smoke and then I felt a little heat, so I came out and looked behind me, and I'm like 'wow!'" said Joseph Rios, a witness.

As a precaution, homes were evacuated just southwest of the interchange of the 710 and 5 freeways near Sydney Drive and Dunham Street, according to the L.A. County Fire Department.

Investigators say as bad as the accident was, it could have been much worse.

"We do have some railroad tracks that were directly underneath. Moments before the crash, there was a train that was coming in that direction. The train operator was able to see what was happening and stopped the train prior to going through and under the bridge," said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Bill Preciado.

Traffic in the East L.A. interchange jammed for hours as crews cleaned up the charred wreckage and assessed the damage to the blackened freeway. Engineers are still unsure if the remaining lanes are stable.

"The biggest concern is the damage to the structure and obviously the concrete because when you have the impact plus the heat of the fire from the incident, that could cause the concrete and even the rebar to not operate as it should or even become weaker," said Patrick Chandler with Caltrans.

Caltrans says if all goes well, the remaining three southbound lanes of the 710 Freeway as well as the southbound 5 Freeway connector ramp to the southbound 710 could reopen by 5 a.m. Monday.

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