A gasoline tanker truck collided with a passenger car and exploded into flames along Interstate 5 in western Stanislaus County early Wednesday, killing five people.
The lone survivor was the car's driver, a Fremont man who was burned over 80% of his body, according to California Highway Patrolman Bob Arnold.
The car's dead passengers were two women and two girls, according to Linda Martin of the Stanislaus County coroner's office. Their identities and that of the truck driver had not been determined, she said.
Officers at the scene thought the gasoline truck might have struck an abutment on an overpass.
Patrolman Doyne Cates said the heat from the fire was so intense that "some of the concrete popped off one of the columns of the overpass." The overpass, leading to Newman 70 miles southeast of San Francisco, was closed as a precaution.
Both northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 5 were closed for an hour until firefighters extinguished flames that spread from the vehicles to grass in the center divider and covered the traffic lanes with dense smoke, Arnold said.
The tanker and car collided about 3:45 a.m. in the southbound lanes along a lonely, straight stretch of the interstate flanked by San Joaquin Valley farms and foothills of the coast range.