Tanker truck fire causes panic in California town

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Updated May 25, 2017
A woman runs from the site of a deadly tanker truck fire Tuesday in Atwater, Calif.A woman runs from the site of a deadly tanker truck fire Tuesday in Atwater, Calif.

A tanker truck crash in California on Tuesday killed one person and sent a ‘wall of fire’ that damaged nearby vehicles and businesses and had people running for their lives.

The California Highway Patrol said it appears the driver of a 2008 Peterbilt who was hauling about 9,000 gallons of gasoline lost control of the truck after exiting Highway 99 in Atwater about 60 miles east of San Jose.

When the truck crashed on its side near an Arco gas station it released a wall of fire that damaged nearby vehicles and buildings (see video below). The driver of the truck, whose name has not been released, was killed in the crash on Bell Lane, according to mercedsunstar.com.

“I looked up and there was this fire like a wall and then we heard the explosion – the first explosion. I’ve never seen fire move like that,” said Jeanine Jaroszek, who had been nearby buying coffee around the time of the 10 a.m. crash.

Witnesses reported hearing several explosions which CHP said may have been the truck’s tires exploding.

Jaroszek said people were shouting and running out of businesses close to the surging fire. Several vehicles and nearby businesses sustained heat damage and will probably be closed for the next few days.

High school students who had been nearby practicing a graduation commencement ceremony reported feeling the force of the explosions. Their practice was called off and students were sent home.

The road may remain closed for the next few days as authorities continue their investigation and check for road damage and determine the environmental impact of the crash. Authorities are concerned that gasoline may have entered the city’s water supply.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation. Some witnesses reported that the truck was already on fire as it made its hasty exit off Highway 99.