Thursday, 10:24 AM
Everett recovers after tanker truck explosion
(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
An aerial view of the fire's aftermath.
By Megan Woolhouse and John R. Ellement, Globe Staff
EVERETT -- It was an amazing fire: 9,400 gallons of gasoline turning into a wall of flame as it flowed from an overturned truck down a densely populated street. Dozens of people fleeing from their homes.
Even more amazing was the number of injuries: zero.
"The most miraculous thing is that none of those people were hurt," said Everett Mayor John F. Hanlon. "No one got hurt, not a scratch. The truck driver hurt his thumb, I understand."
State Police Major Kevin Kelly said a witness saw the truck driving at an excessive rate of speed through Sweetser traffic circle at 1 a.m. The operator lost control and the tanker slid on its side, puncturing its hull.
Chad LaFrance, 30, of Dover, N.H., who drives for P.S. Marston Associates LLC of North Hampton, N.H., was cited for speeding and for not having a federal medical certificate with him, which would certify him as fit to drive, said Trooper Eric Benson, a State Police spokesman.
LaFrance left the scene with a company safety officer. He was to receive a mandatory urine test as required under federal law.
Officials at P.S. Marston, which bills itself as a leader in "service and safety," didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
The flames demolished two buildings, destroyed or damaged 21 vehicles, and sent people running for their lives.
“It looked like a war zone,” Everett Fire Chief David Butler said. “They had heavy fire conditions. Two buildings fully involved in fire. ... They had a pretty serious situation.”
About 130 people had to be evacuated from their homes, including residents of an elderly housing complex, as firefighters battled to prevent the flames from spreading there.
"They did a tremendous job keeping the fire out of that apartment building," Butler said. "It could have been much worse."
In all, firefighters from 15 communities, including Boston, responded. All that remained of the tanker truck was a debris field of charred metal.
Groups of displaced residents huddled along the sidewalks early this morning, many in sleepwear.
"We were lucky we got out," Sandra Howley, 28, said as tears rolled down her cheek. "I saw the flames hit the cars, and they exploded one after the other."
Officials initially evacuated the residents of the buildings and the elderly residents to a school. But after determining that fuel had leaked into the sewer system nearby, authorities relocated the evacuees to the former Everett armory, which is now a senior center.
Hanlon said a dozen families had been displaced. He said that the city's Office of Human Services would work with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to find them shelter.
A Red Cross spokeswoman said the organization was helping nine of the families with temporary lodging for the next couple of nights.
When the first firefighters arrived, they encountered a hellish scene, officials said. After it crashed, the burning gasoline had traveled along the street gutters, igniting the cars. The first firefighters said that when they approached the site, flames were shooting out of the buildings and cars, even sewer manholes.
The intense heat melted metal light poles.
By this evening, an excavator was beginning to knock down one of the buildings, a cream-colored house at West and Main Streets. The melted street was being repaved. Curious onlookers shot pictures of the devastation.
Fire officials said the river of gas was probably ignited by a piece of hot metal from the truck. The gas burned itself out, but still started the fires in the cars, which then spread to the houses. The state Department of Environmental Protection was on the scene to determine if the environment had been harmed by the gas spilling into sewers.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said it’s not exactly clear how the gasoline ignited, but "it doesn't take much. Gasoline is highly flammable."
He said that the fire approached three buildings, destroying those on either side but leaving the one in the middle, which was set back an extra 2 or 3 feet, relatively unscathed. He said it wasn't clear why the building in the middle had been spared.
Hanlon said the Christmas lights on the front of the middle building kept twinkling even as firefighters battled the blazes on both sides.
Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray visited the scene, promising that the state would help those driven out by the fire. "We are going to work to help them in the short term secure housing and then help them get into a situation where they can rebuild their lives."
"It's amazing how patient people are, given what they've been through," he said to reporters after addressing the people sheltering at the senior center.
He said that residents were very appreciative of the work of emergency responders. "When I mentioned the Everett fire and police department, they broke out into applause."
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