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Ventura County

Leaking Tanker Closes 101 Freeway

April 13, 2002|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tanker truck leaking highly flammable liquid oxygen shut down the Ventura Freeway on Friday, snarling traffic in both directions and leading to the evacuation of four nearby businesses.

The truck was unloading 4,400 gallons of liquid oxygen at Apria Healthcare on Trabajo Drive off Del Norte Avenue in Oxnard when the leak occurred. The oxygen combined with the outside air to form clouds of white vapor that drifted over the nearby freeway, Oxnard fire officials said.

Fearing that the vapors could ignite and cause a major catastrophe, the California Highway Patrol shut down both sides of the freeway between Rice and Central avenues from 11 a.m. until about 12:30 p.m. Traffic, which was diverted to surface streets, was backed up for miles, CHP officials said.

"We got this product dumping out and we couldn't have freeway traffic at that time," said CHP spokesman Steven Reid.

Meanwhile, 100 Apria employees and about 300 workers from three neighboring businesses were evacuated.

Capt. Bill Gallaher of the Oxnard Fire Department said the incident began about 10:30 a.m. when the truck driver, who was not identified, was offloading liquid oxygen and heard a popping noise.

When he checked, he discovered a leak and a fire around a valve. Trying to get the tanker as far from the building as possible, the driver moved it across the road, which parallels the freeway. He then unhooked the white tank from the cab and notified Apria, which called the Fire Department, Gallaher said.

The fire, which was confined to a fiberglass covering of the truck, was quickly extinguished, Gallaher said.

Hazardous materials teams were called in to clean up the spill.

Gallaher said hot oil on the road or leaking from passing trucks could have combined with the vapors to cause a fire.

He credited the truck driver, who works for MG Industries in Irwindale, with getting the tank away from the other oxygen tanks at Apria when he saw the leak. At the time, he had already unloaded about 2,000 gallons of liquid oxygen, fire officials said.

Lisa Getson, spokeswoman for Apria, said all evacuated employees were back at work by 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Apria has 380 branches nationwide. The Orange County-based company specializes in providing oxygen, respiratory and medical equipment to patients in their homes.

Getson said the company has not had any other incidents.

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