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Chemical Spill Jams Riverside Freeway Traffic

August 22, 1986|BARRY S. SURMAN | Times Staff Writer

Blame it on the heat or just plain bad luck, but there's no denying that it has been a terrible week for morning commuters around Corona.

Just two days after a slippery trail of sewage closed the northbound Corona Expressway for 4 1/2 hours, a tractor-trailer rig caught fire and spilled a chemical defoliant early Thursday morning on the Riverside Freeway.

The defoliant, being hauled in one- and 30-gallon containers, spilled onto the freeway about 3:10 a.m., forcing firefighters to build a dike to contain the liquid near the Main Street off-ramp while the Riverside County Hazardous Materials Unit was summoned, said Corona Fire Chief Robert McNabb.

"The tractor's right rear dual (tires) erupted into flames as a result of a bad bearing or brake shoe," Highway Patrol Officer Mike Devine said. The driver pulled his truck and two trailers to the nearby exit ramp and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames, which spread to the front trailer.

Plastic cups, cardboard boxes and other packing materials also caught fire, but the flames did not spread to the herbicide.

"More than likely," McNabb said, the plastic chemical bottles melted "when the fire was burning inside . . . or the exuberance of the driver to get off the freeway could have shifted the load. From my understanding, it was leaking when we got there."

All four eastbound lanes were closed for nearly 3 1/2 hours. Two lanes were opened at 6:30 a.m. and a third later in the morning, but the morning rush hour still was hampered by gawkers, Devine said.

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