For The Madera Tribune
A semi truck and tanker hauling gasoline overturned early Sunday morning, blocking both lanes of southbound State Route 99 near Road 15 in the Chowchilla area. About 7,500 gallons of gas spilled on the asphalt, causing the pavement to crumble, requiring both southbound lanes to be closed as the asphalt was removed and then repaved.
Traffic halted, highway pavement destroyed, repaved
A semi truck hauling approximately 8,000 gallons of gasoline overturned early Sunday morning after the driver lost control on southbound State Route 99, near Road 15 in the Chowchilla area, according to the California Highway Patrol. The driver told officers he swerved, went off the roadway and then over-corrected, to avoid hitting a vehicle in front of him.
The semi truck skidded and slid sideways about 1:15 a.m., completely blocking both lanes of traffic. The driver of the semi climbed out of the cab through a window and began running and limping away from the scene, according to witnesses, as the gasoline poured out of the overturned semi trailer and flooded the surrounding pavement.
Shocked motorists stopped, and fearing an explosion, attempted to back their vehicles away from the crash scene as the light southbound traffic slowed to a halt.
About 7,500 gallons of the load of gasoline poured out of the wrecked trailer, complicating the efforts to upright the truck and remove it from the traffic lanes. Hazardous material units from Chowchilla and Madera fire departments responded to foam the pavement to try and dilute the gasoline and prevent the gasoline fumes from igniting.
The many gallons of gasoline soaking into the pavement caused both lanes of the asphalt to erode and begin to crumble, according to authorities, prompting CalTrans contractors to immediately begin the removal of the rubble and then patch and replace the asphalt before the southbound traffic flow could be restored.
CHP public information officer Greg Rodriguez said “the incident was extremely dangerous as any spark or other source of ignition during the recovery of the semi or the grinding out of the pavement could have ignited the fumes, causing a fire.” Traffic was also backed up for miles, as far as the city of Merced, according to Rodriguez, as commercial traffic was rerouted on to Road 59 in Merced, and other traffic was rerouted through the city of Chowchilla.
Weekend traffic in both directions was impacted for about 11 hours as crews worked to remove the semi truck and trailer, grind up the gas-soaked asphalt and repave the two southbound lanes.
The semi truck driver, a 24-year-old man from Tracy, was cited and released. He sustained minor injuries in the solo vehicle crash. The investigation into the incident is ongoing. Drugs or alcohol do not appear to be a factor at this time.