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UPDATED: 60 Freeway Shutdown by Tanker Truck Fire Could Reopen On Saturday

Clouds of thick, black smoke surged skyward Wednesday as firefighters from Montebello and the Los Angeles County Fire Department battled a tanker fire explosion on the eastbound Pomona (60) Freeway in Montebello. Traffic was snarled for hours when the fire forced the closure of the freeway between the 605 Freeway and the 710 Freeway. The Paramount Boulevard overcrossing was damaged in the intense blaze, forcing its closure. The two people in the truck escaped injury, according to Sal Gomez with the California Highway Patrol. Several agencies worked to contain the spread of hazardous materials, said Montebello Fire Chief Tim Wessel. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Update (12/16): The reopening of the 60 Freeway has been pushed to noon Saturday, according to CHP.

Update (12/15 2:40pm): According to a Montebello city press release on their Facebook page [1], the demolition of the Paramount Blvd bridge is set to begin Thursday afternoon, and engineers are still studying samples from the bridge to determine if the westbound lane also needs to be demolished along with the eastbound lane. An emergency contract has been granted to Flatiron Construction to demolish the bridge.

Also, not all of the 60 Freeway stretch between the 710 Freeway and the 605 Freeway is shut down. The San Gabriel Boulevard, Rosemead Boulevard, Santa Anita Avenue, and Durfee Avenue eastbound ramps, and the Atlantic Boulevard and Garfield Boulevard westbound ramps are open.

Montebello Bus Lines also issued detour information [2].

Bumper to bumper traffic choked the commute on nearby freeways Thursday morning as an eight-mile stretch of the Pomona (60) Freeway and the Paramount Blvd Bridge between Montebello and San Gabriel remained off limits to motorists after a double-tanker truck filled with gasoline burst into flames Wednesday.

The fire not only damaged the freeway, but also incinerated a freeway sign and caused concrete on the Paramount Blvd overpass to explode. Most of the 60 Freeway from the 710 Freeway to the 605 Freeway is expected to stay closed until Friday evening, though the there are reports it can now be accessed at Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park just east of the 710 Freeway.

Due to concern by Caltrans engineers that the damage to the bridge would make it unsafe for cars following the blast, demolition of the bridge is set to begin today, said Commander Omar Watson of the East Los Angeles CHP office.

Watson said only the eastbound lane of the bridge will be demolished, he said, so cars will still be able to use the bridge going in the other direction after it is demolished.

A Caltrans engineer declined to comment on what they are using the carry out the demolition, but Watson said they are taking the bridge apart bit by bit in order to not affect other parts of the bridge and freeway.

Southern California Edison also worked this morning to rewire the electrical system on the freeway in order to avoid power getting shutdown at nearby shops, businesses and residences.

Victor Hassan, 38, who owns the two Chevron stations on either side of the bridge and freeway entrances said he has not had any business since the fire started and is hoping to get signs telling customers that they are still open.

Other businesses at the nearby Montebello Town Center mall and shopping area are also reporting a sharp decline in business. Drivers who were in the area when the explosion occurred were stuck in traffic for hours, and many are now avoiding the area entirely.

Traffic on the 60 freeway was deadlocked Wednesday as firefighters worked to put out the tanker truck fire. (Photo by Vicente Gutierrez, City of Montebello)

The entire Montebello firefighting team was among the over 200 firefighters from Los Angeles County, Monterey Park, Rosemead, El Monte and other agencies who responded to the fire.

Montebello Fire Chief Tim Wessel told EGP the “explosion that most of the people are talking about was actually the parts of the concrete bridge exploding,” explaining that water in the concrete began boiling and had nowhere else to go.

Wednesday’s fire began at noon and sent black smoke over a stretch of freeway overlooked by the Montebello Town Center shopping mall. It left commuters and shoppers trapped for hours and one firefighter with a leg fracture. No other injuries were reported.

A preliminary investigation indicated the truck’s brakes may have overheated, CHP Officer Vince Ramirez told KCAL9.

Fire crews sprayed a foam-like substance on the fire and by 1 p.m. appeared to have knocked down most of the flames. But then, the fire flared up anew.

“The wind conditions were such, it was kind of pushing the fire to the south and to the east,” said MWessel

“Unfortunately, that put the main part of the fire further under the bridge, causing further damage to the bridge.”

Firefighters then offloaded the remainder of the 8,800 gallons of gasoline that had been in the tanker.

Wessel said firefighters did “a good job of dyking and containing the runoff” to prevent a mixture of gasoline and firefighting foam from pouring into storm drains and pollute ocean water.

This is not the first time a bridge in Montebello was damaged in a fire. In 2005, the Beverly Blvd bridge connecting Montebello to Pico Rivera suffered a fire believed to have been started by a transient trying to keep warm. That bridge, which was originally made of wood, was rebuilt and reopened as a concrete bridge in 2007.

Information from City News Service was used in the story.