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Freeway explosion: Tanker truck blast shakes homes, businesses

December 14, 2011 |  4:12 pm

Photo: Los Angeles County firefighters, with assistance from other agencies, battle to put foam on a gasoline tanker which caught fire and burned on the eastbound 60 freeway under the Paramount Blvd. bridge Wednesday afternoon. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times A tanker truck explosion Thursday on the 60 Freeway -- closing the busy route indefinitely -- was felt by residents and workers in Montebello.

Miguel Osorio, 25, was helping customers inside a Chevron gas station when he heard two separate explosions. The first bang was loud but not very strong.  Still, it caused him to worry when he saw thick, black smoke bellowing in the sky.

Fearing a sister gas station might be on fire, Osorio called his colleague who worked at the establishment down the street.

PHOTOS: Fiery crash on the 60 Freeway

“It gave me a good scare,” the Montebello resident said.  “The fire looked like it was coming from that general area.”

Then the intensity from a second explosion caused the floor under his feet to vibrate.   

The Los Angeles County Fire Department asked Osorio to stop dispensing fuel while they evaluated the fire.  The station reopened 20 minutes later but customers didn’t return.  Authorities closed off the street and the offramp leading to the station.

But business picked up for his colleague.  Commuters stuck in traffic for hours stopped at the gas station to grab a bite to eat.

"The explosion most witnesses heard was the concrete exploding from the extreme heat," said Montebello Fire Chief Tim Wessell. Water in the concrete boiled, then popped, he said.

Wessell said the truck driver reported the rear trailer ablaze before he came to a stop under the Paramount Boulevard overpass. The fire escalated, causing extremely high temperatures and he was forced to abandon the truck before he could pull completely off to the side of the freeway.

The driver and a passenger were able to escape, authorities said.

A California Highway Patrol official said a passing motorist saw the flames and called 911.

The freeway was shut down between the 605 and 710 freeways, and it will be several hours before it reopens.

"Traffic isn't going to flow through here anytime soon," said CHP Officer Sal Gomez. "The bridge's integrity is something of great concern." 

Wessell said Caltrans officials will get in to examine the bridge once firefighters and hazmat experts determine it is safe. Several times since the initial blaze, the tank has reignited, he said.

“Nobody is getting gas, but inside it’s booming” said Mohammad Maithnoni, 29 of Cypress, also a manager at Chevron.

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-- Angel Jennings

Photo: Los Angeles County firefighters, with assistance from other agencies, battle to put foam on a tanker truck that caught fire and burned on the eastbound 60 Freeway beneath the Paramount Boulevard overpass.

Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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