- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A fuel tanker crashed near the Pentagon early yesterday, sparking multiple explosions that sent flames nearly 50 feet in the air and shut down a major highway for several hours overnight.

The driver, Michael Jerome Guess, 31, of Rockville, died in the accident, authorities said. Mr. Guess worked for Quarles Trucking in Manassas.

“You can’t even recognize it anymore, it’s basically a pile of steel,” Arlington County Chief Fire Marshal Carol Saulnier said of the 8,500-gallon gasoline tanker’s condition.

About 3:40 a.m., Mr. Guess exited northbound Interstate 395 on the ramp to Washington Boulevard.

“He just took the ramp too fast, and when he rounded the bottom lost control of it and it overturned,” said Sgt. Wallace Bouldin, a Virginia State Police spokesman.

Gas from the burning tanker flowed into storm drains, sparking smaller fires.

The blasts — less than a mile from the Pentagon — terrified several nearby residents who were reminded of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

“It was quite impressive, it makes you think of a Bruce Willis movie or something like that,” said Mike Laba, who lives nearby. “The last time I saw something that impressive was when I was at the Pentagon on September 11.”

Much of the interstate was closed while the fire burned for more than three hours.

Smoke hung in the air and lingered in some apartments and hallways.

Arlington firefighters took air quality samples, which they said showed no danger to residents.

Hazardous-material crews were able to keep the contaminants from flowing into the Potomac River and Four Mile Run.

Crews were also checking to see if the storm sewer and the sanitary system had any structural damage.

The flames were so intense that they melted asphalt and part of a street lamp, and charred the underside of an overpass ramp, said Ryan Hall, Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman.

Crews spent the day cleaning up the wreckage and planned to repave the roadway and install a new guardrail.

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