Overturned Gasoline Tanker Sets L.A. River Ablaze

July 14, 2013
Thousands of gallons of flaming gasoline poured into storm drains and into the Los Angeles River, setting the top of the water aflame after a tanker wreck.

July 14--An overturned tanker truck carrying thousands of gallons of gas poured a "burning river of fuel" through storm drains in the Elysian Valley area Saturday, snarling traffic on the 5 Freeway near downtown for most of the day, officials said.

Some of the burning fuel made its way into the L.A. River, setting the water aflame. Fire authorities said there were no injuries.

The tanker was carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline when it overturned at the junction of the 2 and 5 freeways north of downtown Saturday morning. Some people nearby said they heard what sounded like a bomb, before large plumes of black smoke started billowing out.

Billy Wright, who was nearby at the time, rushed over on his bike.

"I was expecting a big fire, but I wasn't expecting the river to be on fire," he said.

A sizable amount of the burning fuel made its way through the storm drains into the river, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey. Firefighters were deployed across a mile-long stretch of the river to monitor the spill. It's unclear what kind of environmental risk the spill will pose.

But its effect on the weekend commute was clear. A portion of the northbound 5 Freeway was shut down. California Department of Transportation road crews and engineers with expertise in fire-damaged concrete inspected the site, officials said.

Traffic was jammed for miles into Chavez Ravine, where the Dodgers drew a crowd of tens of thousands for a 4:15 p.m. game. The pressure was on for crews to open up closed routes before the game let out.

Aside from traffic and delays, there was no threat to fans attending the game, Humphrey said. The Fire Department tried to get the word out to fans to take extra time and have patience in getting to the stadium.

By late Saturday evening, all northbound lanes of the 5 Freeway at the interchange of the 2 Freeway remained closed more than seven hours after the wreck. The southbound lanes of the 2 at the same interchange also remain closed and traffic was being diverted, said Officer Jennifer Cassidy of the California Highway Patrol.

Some businesses closed their doors, as portions of Riverside Drive were closed to traffic. Traffic was slowed throughout Silver Lake as well as across the river in Atwater Village because of street and freeway ramp closures.

"It's terrible right now," said Paul Kim, the manager of Won's Market on Riverside Drive in Elysian Valley, noting that customers could not reach his business. "Take a look outside. No one can drive."

It was a struggle for independent film producer CoCo Quinn to travel from Hollywood to pick up her newly adopted dog, Chase, from a Riverside Drive veterinarian who had neutered the animal.

"It took me an hour to get here when it normally would have taken 13 minutes," Quinn said.

The river remained ablaze for hours after the accident and the initial fire.

"It's still burning," said Robert Nashak, a media executive who could see the tanker fire's smoke from his Silver Lake home and walked down to the edge of the river to see the damage for himself.

"It was like a flamethrower was aimed at it. It ignited the vegetation on an island in the middle of the river," he said.

The tanker truck driver was uninjured, officials said. The fire damaged no homes. But Caltrans was examining any possible damage to the bridge.

Fire Department officials received help from local agencies along with state and federal environmental authorities in an effort to minimize the impact of the spill.

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

Times staff writer Robert Faturechi contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 - Los Angeles Times

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!