Interstate 95 Lanes Re-open

Tanker Expolodes on Interstate 95
In this photo provided by the Prince George's County Fire Dept., a tanker truck carrying 8,700 gallons of gasoline is on fire after exploding on Interstate 95 on one of the busiest travel days of the year. (Mark E. Brady -- Prince George's County Fire Dept. via AP)
By Allison Klein and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 24, 2005

Boyer Chew, working the graveyard shift, had just loaded up his tanker in Baltimore and was cruising down Interstate 95 before dawn yesterday to deliver the gasoline to filling stations. In Prince George's County, he happened to glance in the rearview mirror: Fire was shooting out of his right rear tire.

He was sitting on 8,600 gallons of gasoline. A bomb.

Fighting the impulse to just leap out of the cab and flee, Chew eased the truck over to the side. Then he jumped for all he was worth and started running.

In seconds, the truck exploded into a fireball.

Flames shot into the sky, scorching pavement and forcing hundreds of commuters and travelers to evacuate their cars in the frosty morning of one of the busiest travel days of the year.

The blaze burned for two hours and was so intense that a 125-foot stretch of the two right lanes and shoulder were rendered unusable. All lanes of I-95 in both directions were shut down for an hour at 5 a.m., with the southbound lanes closed for about three hours. The highway did not completely reopen until 2 p.m.

When it was all over, the truck was hauled away as a heap of charred metal. But no one was dead, no one was injured and a lot of people were shaking their heads at what might have been.

When Chew, a driver for Maryland-based Ocean Petroleum, abandoned his truck, he left his cell phone inside. So he flagged down a family from New Jersey who were driving by, and they called 911.

"That man from New Jersey, I don't know who he was, but he comforted me," said Chew, a former boxer who has driven a truck for 15 years.

Thanks to shrewd moves by Chew, his life and countless others were saved. And nine hours after the tanker exploded, the road was cleared, scraped, asphalted and back open for holiday travelers.

Before the road reopened, traffic was backed up three miles both ways on I-95 just north of where it splits with the Inner Loop of the Beltway, not much worse than what happens on Washington area roads nearly every day of the year.

That was partly because of a lighter-than-usual rush hour at the beginning of the holiday and because traffic alerts raced up and down the eastern seaboard within an hour of the incident.

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