THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
SAUGUS

Town assesses cost of Route 1 tanker crash

The gas tanker crash on Route 1 in Saugus in the early hours of July 23 caused an explosion and fire that destroyed a greenhouse on Vine Street. The gas tanker crash on Route 1 in Saugus in the early hours of July 23 caused an explosion and fire that destroyed a greenhouse on Vine Street. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File)
By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / July 31, 2011

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Saugus officials are tallying the cost of a fatal gas tanker crash on Route 1, which caused an explosion that launched a fireball over homes and businesses and sparked an eight-alarm blaze that drew assistance from 22 area fire departments.

Saugus police and firefighters were first on the scene of last weekend’s crash, which killed the truck driver, Neil Michaud, 59, of Manchester, N.H., and injured several people in vehicles that crashed into the tanker. The truck was carrying 10,000 gallons of gasoline.

Saugus emergency management, public works and the health department also rushed to the scene on Route 1 north, just before the Essex Street bridge. The crash burned a section of pavement on both sides of Route 1.

PJ Murphy Transportation Inc. of Methuen owned the tanker. Officials there did not return a call seeking comment.

Saugus Town Manager Andrew Bisignani expressed sympathy to the truck driver’s family and those injured in the explosion.

“As a community, we are sorry for their loss and injuries,’’ Bisignani said. “It was a horrific incident. We are grateful for the assistance from the local fire departments . . . that responded.’’

The tanker truck explosion on July 23 was at least the third one to occur in local communities in recent years. In 2007, a tanker overturned at Sweetsir Circle in Everett, near Route 99, spilling thousands of gallons of gasoline that ignited and sent fire hurtling down Main Street. Dozens of cars were destroyed.

Two years later in Revere, a tanker carrying thousands of gallons of home heating oil overturned at Brown Circle, near Route 107. The tanker’s cargo of fuel did not ignite.

Most tankers head north from fuel terminals in Chelsea, Everett, and Revere. There is no way to gauge how many trucks travel on the roads, or the routes they take, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Bisignani, who called the crash a “major emergency for Saugus,’’ said the town has no control over truck travel on Route 1. “It’s a major highway,’’ he said of the six-lane roadway. “If something happens, we have to respond.’’

The crash required workers from several Saugus departments to respond in the middle of the night. “Our first concern was public safety,’’ Bisignani said.

Bisignani said he expects to know this week how much the response cost the town. The costs include overtime for town workers who had to rush to the scene.

The town will pay the costs, then file a claim with the insurance carrier for PJ Murphy Transportation, or whatever party is found responsible, Bisignani said.

“We would recoup it that way,’’ he said. “From what I understand, they’re very well insured.’’

M. Huberman Greenhouses on Vine Street also plans to file an insurance claim against the company, owner Dana Huberman said.

“There are multiple insurances involved,’’ he said.

The fourth-generation family business was forced to close after its water pipes melted. Two buildings also caught fire, destroying thousands of annual, perennial, and vegetable plants. Tall trees on the property, a block from the crash site, also burned.

“It’s our plan to reopen,’’ Huberman said. “We realize this could have been so much worse. We’re just grateful more people didn’t die or get hurt. We’re also grateful for the great response of the fire departments.’’

State Police are still investigating the cause of the crash, said Trooper Thomas Murphy.

PJ Murphy Transportation, a privately owned company, has a solid safety record, according to data published online by the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the US Department of Transportation.

The company, which is licensed to carry liquids and gases, has 9 trucks, 10 drivers and no crashes in the last 24 months, earning a satisfactory rating from the agency, according to the federal website www.safersys.org.

The crash occurred around 2:15 a.m. on Route 1 north, just before the Essex Street bridge, where the six-lane highway narrows slightly. The vehicle rolled into the guard rail median, flipping into the southbound lane, officials said.

All but 300 gallons of gasoline spilled from the truck. Much of it flowed into a drainage ditch that feeds into Penny Brook, which runs parallel to Route 1 north, behind homes and businesses.

The gasoline caught fire in the river, sparking a new round of blazes that threatened the homes and businesses. Penny Brook flows into the Saugus River, where boating and fishing is allowed.

There appears to be no environmental damage, said Joe Ferson, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“At this point, it looks like there will be no long-term environmental impact,’’ Ferson said. “But we’ll be monitoring the storm drains, periodically, for at least the next week to see if anything else is flushed out.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@ globe.com.