Flaming Gasoline Flows Along Freeway After Crash
A driver who collided with a tank truck hauling a trailer while he was entering a freeway caused a gasoline fire that resulted in the deaths of five persons and the destruction of the tanker and trailer, two passenger cars and a pickup truck.
Shortly after 9 p.m. last March 3, the tank truck and trailer carrying a total of 9000 gallons of gasoline were westbound on the Ventura Freeway on the Laurel Canyon overcrossing in the Studio City area of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.
Suddenly a motorist entered the freeway and bumped into the right front wheel of the truck, causing the driver to fishtail and lose control. The truck overturned, flaming gasoline covered the freeway in both directions, and a small truck with four people in the rear and two other cars were engulfed in flames.
The California Highway Patrol notified the Los Angeles City Fire Department operations control division, which dispatched Engines 78 and 60 at 9:08 p.m.
Rescue Ambulance 60, returning from a call, heard the alarm and radioed that the crew could see a large glare of flames. Obviously, it was a major fire, so dispatchers quickly expanded the initial assignment by sending Task Force 60 (two engines and a truck), Battalion 14 Chief R.C. Anderson, Engine 86 and— most important—Light Water 86. The latter unit is one of four former high pressure wagons which were rebuilt to carry and proportion aqueous Filmforming foam (AFFF).
As Anderson rolled west from Station 60 with the task force, he radioed Engine 78, one of the few single engine companies that carries 3 V2 -inch hose, to abandon the usual freeway response plan and enter the freeway westbound from Laurel Canyon instead of eastbound. Normally, one engine responds from each direction to a freeway fire.
Truck 60 and Anderson followed and Pump 60 was ordered to connect to a hydrant about a third of a mile north of the fire. Wagon 60 laid 3 Vi -inch hose to a spot near the freeway at Laurel Grove and Kling Sts., where it later connected to a hydrant as a backup tactic. Then, 3 1/2-inch hose was muled from Engine 78 down the freeway slope to Wagon 60, and Engine 78 supplied LW 86 with water. The lines were charged, and the fire fighters on the freeway attacked the three inches of burning gasoline with AFFF from LW 86.
Flames in flood channel
The burning gasoline was flowing southeasterly through the freeway drains to the concrete-lined Tujunga Wash flood control channel. However, the fast-running water lowered the danger of the Fiery gasoline. In fact, the fast running water broke up the flames.
Meanwhile, the dispatchers realizing the full extent of the emergency at 9:09 p.m. dispatched Division 3 Chief J.E. Lockwood, Rescue Ambulance 39 and Task Force 102.
Anderson diverted Task Force 102 to the south side of the freeway, where smoke and flames were reported. This was an ivy-covered area near two schools. The Fire in the ivy was out and Task Force 102 was repositioned to Whitsett Ave. near Riverside, where the freeway passes over Whitsett.
Truck 102 raised its ladder and hose lines from the pump were connected and charged so that lines for use on the freeway were available from the ladder pipe. Access to the freeway was by ladder. The command post was set up near Truck 102.
More companies called
At 9:15 p.m. Lockwood requested another battalion chief for the western perimeter, three more engine companies (Engines 108, 83, 76) and two rescue ambulances (82 and 89).
Anderson requested a helicopter for aerial observation—particularly of the flood control area—and at 9:15 Helicopter 4 scrambled from its Van Nuys base. In response to a request for backups, LW 100 was dispatched at 9:25 with Reserve Crash 90 and Tank 90 from the Van Nuys airport.
Light Water 100 and three engine companies were positioned on the west side of the Fire in the event the hand line attack from LW 86 was not successful, but the units never went into action.
Deputy Chief A.L. Schultz arrived to take overall command and saw that an engine company was spotted at the Laurel Canyon bridge over the wash to closely check for burning fuel.
The tenacious attack by the fire fighters using hand lines paid off and the fire was out in 38 minutes.
Schultz noted that the department’s mobile fire lab also was dispatched to determine how far the fumes had spread.
Schultz was critical of the highway patrolman who removed the driver, who did not have major injuries, from the scene before he could be questioned by fire officers about the fuel and other details.
“It is vital for us to have the driver of a fuel truck to check out details—if he’s not badly injured,” Schultz commented.
The deck gun on LW 86 was not used because the unit could not be positioned close enough to the fire.