Was This Avoidable?

Tanker truck crash closes main route between Boston, New York

Inferno leave Interstate 95 overpass sagging from heat

By Sarah Coffey, Associated Press

Bridgeport, Conn. - A section of Interstate 95, the main traffic artery between New York and Boston, could be shut down for at least two weeks following a fiery tanker truck wreck that melted a bridge.

    It's going to be pain in the neck," Gov. John G. Rowland said after surveying the scene Friday.

    State police said a car apparently forced the tanker truck into a concrete barrier on the south-bound side of the interstate Thursday night. The truck carried 12,000 gallons of home heating oil, which fueled a huge blaze that sent a fireball dozens of feet into the air.

    The fire damaged the steel support beams that carry both sides of I-95 over an avenue, causing the overpass, which was new, to sag several feet.

    No one was seriously hurt.

    Northbound I-95 might reopen this weekend, Rowland said, but the southbound side of the bridge will have to be torn down, he said.

    Instead of rebuilding the bridge, workers will close the street below with dirt; a temporary highway will then be built on top of that fill.

    Rowland said he hoped the southbound highway could be reopened in two weeks, and estimated the cost the temporary fix at $3 million to $4 million.

    He said the state will receive $11.2 million in federal highway aid.

    Bridgeport Fire Chief Michael Maglione estimated the fie burned at 1,800 to 2,000 degrees, several hundred degrees above where steel begins to weaken. Cars moving past the accident created a mist of heating oil in the air, which probably ignited, causing the fire, Maglione said.

    I-95, a vital East Coast artery, is heavily congested in New England. Nearly 120,000 vehicles a day travel the span where the crash happened.

    The truck driver in Thursday's accident and a firefighter were treated for slight injuries.

Building Construction for the Fire Service
Third edition
Francis L. Brannigan:

Steel Highway Structures and Bridges
Pages 276 and 277

     Bridges and overpasses on highways provide a good example of unprotected steel which is vulnerable to an occasional gasoline truck fire. Such fires can result in enormous damage, possibly accompanied by major traffic disruptions. For some interchanges, an analysis would prove that protection is justified, but any effective action is most unlikely.

     A bridge on the Trans Canada Highway in Nova Scotia was melted when struck by a fuel truck that exploded. The bridge was out of service for 69 days and the repairs cost $350,000.

     A bridge in Pittsburgh passed over a plumbing warehouse. A 10-alarm fire in the warehouse severely damaged the bridge. It was out of service for a year. The total loss was estimated to be $10 million, taking into account the losses suffered by the 18,000 people who had used the bridge daily.

     A Texas fire department fought a fire in lumberyard. The lumber extended under the structure of a highway which spanned a ravine. The highway was out of service for several months while expensive repairs were made to the bridge. A single engine company committed to cooling the steel might have prevented the damage.

     In New Jersey, an illegal construction debris business existed under the elevated portion of Interstate 78 - ten lanes wide. A fire in the combustible debris did major damage to the highway. Heavy steel girders elongated, knocking over rocker bearings, and then sagged. It was closed for months and caused massive traffic disruption.

     A gasoline tank truck was on fire below a steel highway overpass. The fire department used the available water to make foam. The fire was extinguished but the bridge was ruined. The removal of the unburned gasoline was a serious problem It might have been better to use the available water to cool the steel, as the gasoline burned out.

     The Chicago Fire Department fought a truckload of magnesium on fire under a concrete overpass. The structure was protected by hose streams as the fire burned out. The bridge was saved.

     Seventy years ago, when prefire planning was generally unknown, the New York City Fire Department developed very specific preplans to get water as soon as possible onto fires on the East River bridges, recognizing the vulnerability of the unprotected steel. If assigned units are unavailable, the dispatcher must cover them and notify the replacement units of their specific function.

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