A tanker truck hauling diesel fuel hit a car and overturned on the Golden State Freeway near Gorman, erupting in flames and closing all four of the highway's northbound lanes for 17 hours, authorities said Tuesday.
Two northbound lanes were reopened by 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and the other two were back in use by about 4:10 p.m., the California Highway Patrol said. The driver of the car was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.
The accident, about two miles south of Gorman on the stretch of Interstate 5 known as the Grapevine, occurred about 8:30 p.m. Monday when the driver of the two-tank rig swerved to avoid a car stopped in the slow lane of the highway, Officer Paul Yanez said.
The tanker clipped the 1979 Cougar, overturned and slid across all lanes. Its rear tank ruptured and exploded in flames, Yanez said. The car also caught fire and was destroyed.
"There was a wall of flames about 15 feet high all the way across the northbound lanes of the freeway. Right by the tanker it was even higher, probably 30 feet high," said Yanez, the first officer on the scene.
Both the truck driver and the driver of the car were treated for minor injuries at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia and released, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The driver of the car, Johnny Bennett, 54, of Oildale, was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and was being held Tuesday at the Peter J. Pitchess jail in Castaic, Yanez said.
The driver apparently passed out behind the wheel and had stopped the car in the slow lane, Yanez said.
"Witnesses said he didn't even realize there was a crash," Yanez said.
The tanker was carrying about 7,400 gallons of diesel fuel. An estimated 1,700 gallons of the 4,200 gallons in the rear tank spilled across the northbound lanes and burned, the CHP said.
"The heat was so intense, it popped out chunks of cement," CHP Officer Mark Ehly said.
The fire "literally disintegrated" the top layer of pavement, said Jim Parsons of the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans workers repaved parts of all four lanes.
Southbound lanes of the highway were initially shut down but were reopened about an hour later when 75 firefighters extinguished the blaze, CHP Officer Jerry Berger said Tuesday.
The rig's front tank, which contained 3,200 gallons, sprang only a small leak and did not catch fire. A pump truck drained it early Tuesday, the CHP said.
"We're real lucky that front tank didn't catch as well," Yanez said. "We were real worried it had sprung a leak and would go right up."
The driver of the tanker, Luis Martinez, 47, of Delano, was identified as an employee of Mock Transportation Co. of Bakersfield.