WASHINGTON – Traffic was snarled around the nation's capital early Wednesday after a tanker truck carrying 8,700 gallons of gasoline exploded on Interstate 95 on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
The truck driver was able to escape unharmed after he noticed one of his rear wheels burning as he headed south from Baltimore around 5 a.m. EST.
"I jumped out and the next thing you know, she started going up in flames," the driver, Boyor Chew, told WRC-TV. "First it was a slow-starting fire. Then all the compartments blew up at the same time."
Chew, of Odenton, Md., said he was lucky to be alive. He pulled the truck over to the shoulder of the road and jumped out. A family from New Jersey stopped on the highway to call 911 and let Chew warm up.
Chew works for Ocean Petroleum in Newark, Md., and had filled his tanker earlier in the morning at the Port of Baltimore to deliver gasoline to a station in Silver Spring. An engineer from the company was sent to the fire scene.
"We don't know exactly what happened, but we've never had a tanker explode and burn up," Ocean Petroleum chief operating officer Steve Ladd told The Associated Press.
Flames shot high into the air for nearly two hours as firefighters let the fire burn itself out. Drivers stopped near the scene were told to get out and abandon their cars for fear of a larger explosion, but no injuries were reported, said Prince George's County Fire and Rescue spokesman Mark Brady.
Two southbound lanes of I-95 were reopened to traffic by 8:15 a.m, and the remaining lanes were expected to reopen after some resurfacing where the truck burned, said Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck.
Metro buses were brought in to help transport holiday travelers from the Greenbelt Metro station to Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
"This is not what we needed to start this travel day," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "This is a reminder of just how fragile our transportation system is."
About 683,000 people in the region were expected to travel Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday, and most of them were leaving town by car, Anderson said.