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Freeway explosion: Crumbling bridge 'definitely coming down'

December 15, 2011 |  9:22 am

Intense flames from the massive tanker fire caused so much damage to the Paramount Boulevard overpass on the 60 Freeway that crews will begin immediate demolition of the eastbound side of the bridge Thursday morning, a state transportation official said.

“This is definitely coming down today,” said Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler, pointing to the bridge over the eastbound lanes of the freeway.

He said it is unclear how long the demolition will take and more tests are being conducted to determine whether the westbound side also will be torn down.

PHOTOS: Fiery crash on the 60 Freeway

Crews had already begun pressure-spraying the westbound side of the bridge to dislodge material damaged in Wednesday’s spectacular fuel-tanker fire.

Chandler said the bridge would be demolished from the abutment to the columns in the center divider.

Beneath the bridge lay a foot of sand and gravel to cushion falling debris.


The fire was so intense that "the flames caused the cement above to pop and become brittle and fall to the roadway," Chandler said.

The heat was so intense that hours after the crash and long after the fire had been put out, Chandler said he could feel the temperature difference as he walked near the bridge.

"It was still warm," Chandler said. "Concrete retains for a long time. You could walk under the bridge and it was 15 degrees warmer."

As Chandler spoke, the freeway was silent, except for structural engineers and work crews conferring, amid the backhoes and cherry pickers and klieg lights they had brought to the scene. A helicopter hovered far in the distance.

The massive work facing these crews, and the hellish drive times awaiting commuters, all came down to a matter of a few feet. The truck driver, with his cargo of 8,800 gallons of gasoline ablaze, kept driving on the freeway, not stopping until he was near the bridge. An investigation into the incident is underway to determine the cause of the blaze.

Had he stopped well before the bridge, "it'd be a whole different thing,” Chandler said. Caltrans work crews could have replaced a slab of freeway in a night.

Authorities on Wednesday said they believed the heat and fire were so intense that the driver had no time to even pull to the side of the freeway. He and his passenger abandoned the big rig safely.

The freeway closure -- between the 605 and 710 freeways -- will probably continue through the weekend at a minimum. Closing so many miles of freeway was necessary to allow crews to get heavy machinery to the scene, Chandler said.

"We need the space to come in and out," he said. "Time is money. The quicker we get this done, the quicker we can get the freeway opened."


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 -- Sam Quinones in Montebello


Photo: The 60 Freeway remains closed in both directions between the 605 and the 710 freeways as work crews begin preparing for the demolition on the eastbound side of the Paramount Boulevard bridge following Wednesday's fuel tanker fire. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times