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Friday, February 11, 2005


Arlington County firefighters battled a spectacular petroleum tanker fire and explosion near the Pentagon before dawn on Dec. 22, 2004, and the blast evoked fears of another terrorist attack.

The driver apparently lost control of the truck on the Washington Boulevard ramp off Interstate 395, and the vehicle slammed into a guardrail and flipped over at about 4 a.m.

"You can't even recognize it anymore, it's basically a pile of steel," said Arlington County Chief Fire Marshal Carol Saulnier, quoted by The Washington Post.

The driver died. No other injuries were reported.

The HAZMAT team and crews from the county's Department of Environmental Services used berming and containment booms to prevent gasoline from polluting Four Mile Run and the Potomac River. However, the county posted warning signs along Lower Long Branch stream from Fraser Park to Troy Park.

Because of the crash's proximity to the Pentagon, some people in the neighborhood feared a repeat of the Sept. 11 attack. But traffic cameras recorded the event and officials concluded the accident was caused by excessive speed, according to the Post.

The fire burned for three hours, and at the height of the blaze "we had flames probably about 50 feet in the air," said Tom Polera, Arlington County assistant fire marshal, quoted by the Post.

Manhole covers flew into the air as well, as runoff from the tanker caused petroleum vapors to accumulate in storm drains. Some of the runoff triggered sewer fires. The intense heat charred the roadway and damaged an overpass. The petroleum truck was enroute to a delivery at a Citgo station near the Pentagon, according to the Post.

Regional response

The web site provided details of the regional response - the fire departments of Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County and the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority - to Box 7532:

Operations were under the command of DC Barksdale, and there were two operational branches: Pentagon Branch under the command of BC Cornwell, and Army-Navy Branch under the command of BC Blankenship. Among the units on the alarm were E105, T105, E101, HM101, E107, HM202, T203, R109, Q109, E102. In addition, E410 was summoned to serve as the Command Post engine company, and HM434, HMSU, Fairfax BC-HazMat, and Fairfax Operations 404 were special-called for environmental monitoring purposes. Finally, Foam Units 332 and 335 from MWAA-National responded.

Additionally, Arlington FC Schwartz responded, as did FM114, and Arlington FM Capt. Tom Polera, who also served as media liaison. The Arlington County PD Command Unit served as the base of operations for unified command. The Red Cross and Canteens 408 and 422 also provided much-needed rehab services for this long-term incident. In addition, multiple EMS units were utilized as citizens began to complain of random issues as a result of fumes in the area of several residential buildings on and near Army-Navy Drive.

Due to the lack of any exposures, and out of a concern that suppression efforts might further compound the environmental runoff problem, Command decided after conferring with BC-Special Ops Liebold, Virginia State Patrol, Arlington County PD, and Pentagon Police, to allow the remaining product in the shattered tanker kettle to burn off.

Of significant concern was the impact that the incident could have on morning rush hour traffic, as I-395 and the HOV lanes were closed in both directions for a period of time due to heavy smoke in the area. Conditions improved, however, and I-395 northbound and the HOV lanes were reopened at 0530 hours. The incident was declared stable at approximately 0930 hours, and the scene was turned over to VDOT and the clean-up contractor for remediation.

County press release

According to a press release from Arlington County government:

Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) responded to the scene of the 3:45 a.m. crash, in which a tanker carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline overturned and burst into flames.

Fire and HazMat crews were able to contain any contaminants, which had entered the storm sewer system, and are continuing to monitor the situation. Because of their quick actions, no contaminants are known to have entered Four Mile Run or the Potomac River, fire officials said. County crews are checking for any possible structural damage to storm sewer and the sanitary system at scene.

Arlington County activated its Emergency Operations Center at approximately 4:20 a.m. to coordinate emergency management operations. The EOC was de-activated at approximately 9:15 a.m.