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Tanker erupts in Boston suburb

A river of flames destroys apartment buildings and cars. No one is injured.

December 06, 2007|From the Associated Press

EVERETT, MASS. — Jolted from bed by a thunderous explosion, John Malone grabbed his pants and looked out the window to see a flaming river of fuel flowing toward his apartment building from an overturned tanker truck. "I just grabbed my girlfriend and her aunt and ran," said the 28-year-old machinist.

Safety officials were surprised and grateful that no one was hurt in the early Wednesday accident that spilled 9,400 gallons of burning fuel into a sleeping community.

Witnesses said a 10-foot wall of flame flowed through the neighborhood after the tanker flipped, blowing up cars and destroying two apartment buildings, including Malone's.

Residents were hastily evacuated, including about 84 in a senior citizen complex and 10 to 12 families who lost their homes.

Firefighters were initially hampered by icy conditions and frozen hydrants, but they were able to contain the fire in this closely packed Boston suburb.

"We're alive," Malone said. "The other stuff you can get back."

Fire officials said the spilled fuel was likely ignited by the truck's catalytic converter or muffler. It flowed down an onramp and curled around a corner to Main Street, where the homes were destroyed.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Ragucci said he arrived to find fire flowing among buildings and parked cars, which began exploding in succession.

Most of the gasoline appeared to have dispersed or burned before reaching storm drains that lead to rivers, officials said.

Hours after the explosion, the fire was still burning in spots. The smell of fuel and burning wood mixed as firefighters poured water on one of the ruined three-story homes, about 100 yards from where the tanker flipped. Two streetlight poles that partially melted and collapsed lay across the road near a line of burned-out cars, all encased in ice.

State police said Chad LaFrance, 30, of Dover, N.H., was driving too fast when his tanker flipped and hit a guardrail about 1:40 a.m. He was cited for speeding and not carrying a medical certificate verifying his health.

LaFrance worked for Abenaqui Carriers Inc. of North Hampton, N.H., state police said. Several messages left at the company were not returned.

New Hampshire licensing records show that LaFrance, who has a valid commercial driver's license, has had minor violations in his personal vehicle, including speeding and failing to have his vehicle inspected.

Michael Lanier, 17, was wearing shorts in the freezing weather outside the armory where the evacuees were staying. He said the smoke was so thick outside his apartment near the explosion that he could barely see the flames.

Dylan Constantine, 32, said he was half-asleep watching TV when what "sounded like a shotgun blast" jolted him wide awake. He roused his roommates and they took off, jumping through a wall of burning fuel that was flowing past his house.

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