Holiday traffic came to a standstill yesterday after a tanker-truck full of gasoline exploded on Interstate 95 in the pre-dawn hours near the Capital Beltway split in Beltsville.
“I was lucky to be alive,” said driver Boyor Chew, who noticed flames coming from a rear axle at about 4:35 a.m., then ditched his 10-wheeler on the shoulder and ran to safety. “I jumped out and the next thing you know, she started going up in flames.”
Mr. Chew, who works for Ocean Petroleum of Newark, Md., said he had just filled his roughly 8,700-gallon tanker at the Port of Baltimore and was traveling to a gas station on University Boulevard in Silver Spring.
The flames and explosions spewed thick, dark smoke and snarled traffic in both directions on Interstate 95 and the Beltway. Detoured traffic caused major delays on nearby roads and alternative routes, including the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and U.S. Route 1.
“First, it was a slow-starting fire,” Mr. Chew, 44, of Odenton, Md., told WRC-TV (Channel 4.) “Then, all the compartments blew up at the same time.”
Gasoline leaked into the median strip and the gully beyond the shoulder.
The northbound lanes were closed for about an hour. Two southbound lanes reopened at about 8:15 a.m. and the other two reopened at about 1:30 p.m.
No injuries were reported, but firefighters evacuated vehicles directly behind the tanker as a precaution and allowed the flames to exhaust themselves.
The vehicles behind the tanker eventually were allowed to turn around and cross over to the northbound lanes.
“It was a huge traffic impact,” said Sgt. Rob Moroney, a Maryland State Police spokesman.
About 683,000 area residents are expected to travel during the holiday weekend, and the day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. But Sgt. Moroney said the backups were never more than three miles long.
Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire-Emergency Medical Services Department, said about 100 firefighters and rescue workers, including some from Montgomery County, responded to the incident in chilly pre-dawn hours.
A New Jersey family that stopped to call 911 allowed Mr. Chew to warm up inside their car.
After the fire-gutted tanker was removed, road crews repaired melted asphalt.
Extra Metro buses were summoned to help transport travelers from the Greenbelt Metro station to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Sgt. Moroney said investigators from the state police’s Commercial Division will examine the rear axle of the tanker to determine the cause of the fire.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Paul Schlamm said the agency will not send investigators but will review the findings, in part to see whether they are similar to those in the Sept. 23 incident that killed 23 nursing-home patients being evacuated from the area in the path of Hurricane Rita.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.