Big-rig explodes on I-880 in Oakland

October 22, 2008 2:14:13 PM PDT
There was a spectacular fire on I-880 Wednesday morning - after a fuel tanker flipped and exploded. It was carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline.

All southbound lanes at Broadway remain closed right now - though most of the northbound lanes have re-opened.

The tanker exploded after crashing with a car near Fifth Avenue in Oakland, around 6:15 Wednesday morning. It immediately caused a massive traffic back-up.

Now the focus turns to repairs, environmental concerns, and the afternoon commute.

There is a huge response from Oakland emergency crews - from the fire department, CHP, Coast Guard to Fish and Game.

The tanker truck now looks like something you'd see at a junk yard - a heap of metal. The CHP says what started out as one car's mistake - wound up being a headache for tens of thousands of drivers. The truck turned into a fireball and thick, black smoke filled the air. The tanker truck was carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline. It began shortly after 6:00 Wednesday morning - when the truck hit a black Acura.

"The driver of the sedan made a left turning movement into the center divider, collided into the center divider, and then came off that center divider and collided into the tanker truck," said Sam Morgan, CHP.

Despite the devastation, the three people in the sedan, and the driver of the tanker, were not injured. The crash and resulting fire turned northbound and southbound 880 into rapidly growing parking lots.

"I was supposed to be at work at 6:30, I've been on the freeway since 6:15," said Joseph Nelson, Antioch-to-Oakland commuter.

"What time is it now?" asked ABC7's Terry McSweeney.

"It's about 10 after 8:00," said Nelson.

Tim O'Sullivan spent much of the morning parked in his truck on 880.

"Lumber yards and Home Depots are waiting for me to deliver," said O'Sullivan.

"How long have they been waiting?" asked McSweeney.

"A couple hours," said O'Sullivan.

At one point the burning gasoline traveled through the storm drains underneath the freeway over to the northbound lanes. But finally the flames were knocked down, and the morning sun revealed the wreckage. Caltrans is not sure when it will be able to open up southbound lanes.

It is amazing no one was hurt. The burned out tanker is still waiting to be removed and only after then can the repair work begin. Meantime, three of the northbound lanes are open.

Southbound 880 is closed from Broadway to 16th Avenue. The clean-up and repair will take until at least Thursday morning. The suggested detour is eastbound 580. And if you can, you are urged to take BART.

Gas spill cleanup effort underway

The U.S. Coast Guard is out checking on whether any gas spilled into the Oakland-estuary, and potentially into the bay.

The thick black smoke from the tanker fire is one aspect of environmental pollution of the air, but what's been more concerning is the potential water pollution from the gas that poured from the truck and ran off into storm drains leading to the estuary waters. Some oil sheen has been spotted.

The Oakland fire department says its first priority was immediately tackling the flames, but crews did seal off all storm drains that the runoff would have access to as quickly as they could. Firefighters laid sandbags to stop some of the gas flowing off I-880, and also laid out plastic sheets and spread an absorbent material on the roadway to soak up the liquid. While a significant amount of the gas burned off, authorities say some did get into the drains.

An oily sheen was spotted in the water around the harbor and near the San Antonio fishing pier.

"We did observe a sheen over here at the Marina behind the Motel-6, a little earlier. We're not sure yet where it exactly came from, but we do have investigators on their way over here to determine if that is oil from this, or if it's just like residue from the boats over here," said Kevin Neff, U.S. Coast Guard

"The Fish & Game is going to take my samples, and they will compare whether or not it did come from the truck," said Hansen Pang, Alameda Co. District Attorney's Environmental Crimes Unit.

A representative from Alameda County's Environmental Crimes Unit says the samples he collected of the oily-looking water will determine the source of the pollution. Since it will take time to confirm what's in the water, agencies including the Coast Guard, the Department of Fish and Game, and the California Environmental Protection Agency are going ahead and cleaning the oily sheen in the water.

Buoys have been laid out to stop the oily residue from filtering out into Oakland-Alameda waters - and in turn the bay. Those water samples gathered will be sent to a state lab in Sacramento for testing, Fish and Game will review results.


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