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Tanker’s Crash, Spill Close Highway Lanes

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From Times Wire Reports

A double-tanker truck loaded with about 10,000 gallons of gasoline overturned and erupted into flames Monday, partially blocking California 101 and creating a miles-long traffic tie-up, authorities said.

No one was injured in the accident, but a California Highway Patrol officer directing traffic in the aftermath of the wreck was knocked down by a car whose driver had tried to get around the crash scene.

The CHP detoured northbound traffic off the highway until about 12:30 p.m., about five hours after the tanker overturned onto its side in the Summerland area of Montecito, a community about five miles south of Santa Barbara.

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The partial reopening of the highway did little to ease traffic congestion in the area, with delays of up to two hours reported and a tie-up stretching up to seven miles.

The second of the scenic highway’s two northbound lanes was expected to remain blocked until about 3 p.m.

CHP Officer Mark Daniels said that before the highway was partly reopened motorists were routed onto California 192, a two-lane mountain road. No trucks were permitted to take the eight-mile detour because the road is too narrow and winding, Daniels said.

Fire Capt. Tom Van Homer said the tanker spilled most of its load, much of which was consumed by a raging fire that engulfed the vehicle.

The fuel-fed blaze spread to trees and brush alongside the highway, charring about two acres. Several buildings, including houses, were threatened for a time.

About 35 firefighters were called to the scene, putting the blaze out by about 8:15 a.m.

Although the fire was extinguished, firefighters poured foam on the wreckage and on the highway through the day to prevent the blaze from reigniting. Some of the gasoline flowed into storm drains, sparking small flash fires.

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California Department of Transportation crews helped firefighters contain the gasoline, trucking in tons of sand to create dikes.

Van Homer said authorities were concerned that the gas would flow into the ocean. The Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Game were assessing what environmental damage might have occurred.

Daniels said the same stretch of road has been the site of four similar accidents in the past two years.

“It’s kind of a tricky area because it’s an incline and . . . there’s the ocean on one side, so people get distracted,” he said.

The truck driver’s identity was not immediately available. Investigators said he told them that he fell asleep behind the wheel. He was not cited pending the outcome of an investigation.

The hurt CHP officer, Dick West, 46, suffered a broken wrist and minor injuries.

West was directing traffic when he saw a motorist cross into opposing lanes of an access road that runs parallel to California 101.

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The motorist, identified as Peter Joseph Baum, 47, of Montecito, led West on a brief chase, authorities said. He had handed the officer his driver’s license when he saw a break in traffic, grabbed the license back and sped off while his door was still open, authorities said. West was hit by the door.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Baum a short distance away. Baum told arresting officers that he was in a hurry to get to his daughter’s home nearby out of fear that her cat would be burned in the tanker fire.

Baum was expected to be booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, Daniels said.

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