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Tanker truck loaded with gas crashes near Warriors Mark

A truck driver from northeastern Pennsylvania was rushed to Altoona Regional Health System Monday evening for burns and other injuries he suffered after the tanker truck he was driving crashed near the rural village of Warriors Mark, causing his load of over 8,500 gallons of gasoline to spill on to the roadway. Immediately following the crash, an explosion ignited the spilled fuel and the rig as a sustained fireball shot high over the tree tops along Route 350.
“When first responders arrived, the rig was fully engulfed,” said Huntingdon County Emergency Management Agency director Adam Miller. “The fuel burned so hot, the road began to crack and it eventually started to melt.
“This has got the be the highest level of damage to asphalt I’ve ever seen.”
The accident occurred about 6 p.m. Monday roughly one mile south of Warriors Mark in the area of Seven Stars. The truck driver, Bruce Strait, 56, of Ashley, near Wilkes-Barre, was traveling south along Route 350, and while negotiating a left-hand curve in the roadway, Strait lost control of his 1999 Freightline rig and struck a guardrail.
The passenger side impact caused the truck to roll over and burst into flames. Several trees were also incinerated during the blaze. At press time, it was unclear how Strait got out of his cab.
Miller said even though the flames were intense, a large part of the focus was on keeping the fuel contamination from getting into a nearby stream.
“The accident happened very near to Warriors Mark Run which is a major part of the drinking water supply for that area,” the EMA director said. “Emergency crews had to make some quick decisions regarding not only the containment of the flames but also for keeping the gasoline from getting into the water supply.
“This could’ve turned in to a major environmental catastrophe but the crews on scene made quick and smart decisions. They deserve a pile of credit.”
Miller explained that, instead of putting water on the flames, they used foam, due to the fact that dousing it with water could’ve potentially sent the spilled fuel over the bank and into the stream. Miller said a decision was made to “let the fuel burn off,” noting that it was “much safer for everyone involved” – namely the emergency crews on scene. Once the fire became manageable, the remainder of the flames was extinguished.
“Although the contamination was kept from entering the water supply, there’s still going to be about 100 metric tons of soil along the stream bank that will need to be removed,” Miller said. “If the gasoline would’ve made it to the stream, the cleanup effort would’ve been much more involved, requiring a much larger amount of soil removal and the water supply may have sustained unimaginable contamination.”
Route 350 was closed last evening and remained closed this morning as cleanup efforts continued. According to state police at Huntingdon, Strait was stabilized at Altoona Hospital Monday evening and was later taken to a Pittsburgh hospital for further treatment. Authorities said Strait suffered “severe burns” and other injuries as a result of the mishap.
Miller said the Emergency Alert System was put in to service Monday night in order to keep nearby residents abreast of the situation.
“There are about 120 different chemicals that make up gasoline so there was an immediate concern for the welfare and safety of those who live close to the accident scene,” Miller explained. “The EAS alert was used to caution folks within a two-mile radius of the scene to stay inside their homes due to the hazardous vapor risk. We also went door to door to ensure that everyone knew what was going on and what they should be doing to protect themselves from potential air contamination.
“Throughout the call, we conducted air quality monitoring so we could keep residents up to date.”
It is unclear just how long the roadway will remain closed as damage to its surface will need to be assessed and repairs effected.
Warriors Mark-Franklin Volunteer Fire Co. Roy Ellenberger Jr. was unavailable this morning for comment. His crews were assisted by Alexandria Volunteer Fire Co., Juniata Valley Ambulance, AMED, PennDOT and Eagle Towing and Recovery, Milesburg.