Shira Moolten, Angie DiMichele
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
A collision between a passenger car and fuel tanker truck Tuesday afternoon had a domino effect on Interstate 95, leading to an explosion, one car crashing into a median, a light pole hitting others and five people hospitalized.
Three of the five injured people are in critical condition after multiple vehicles caught on fire in the northbound lanes near the Atlantic Avenue exit in Delray Beach. They were taken to Delray Beach Medical Center, and one person was then transported to the Miami Burn Center.
The crash involved the fuel tanker and four cars, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. One driver was heading north on I-95 near Atlantic Avenue in the center lane when he swerved into the left lane, his car’s left side crashing into the tanker’s right side.
The car and truck both veered into the highway’s inside shoulder where the truck overturned, Lt. Indiana Miranda, an FHP spokesperson, said in an email Tuesday night. A man in another car driving in the inside lane swerved to the left to avoid the crash but hit the median wall.
The impact of the car crashing into the median knocked a light pole into the southbound lanes, hitting two more vehicles, Miranda said.
Flames engulfed the fuel tanker and two of the cars on the northbound side after it exploded.
The fuel tanker driver, drivers of the second and third cars, and passengers inside the third car were all injured, Miranda said. The driver who crashed into the median wall suffered “severe” burns.
It was so hot at the scene, according to Dani Moschella, a spokesperson for Delray Beach Fire Rescue, that as the firefighters approached to lay the hose, their boots melted. As the fire consumed the vehicles, pitch black smoke billowed into the air, seemingly for miles.
“The amount of smoke just kept building up on top of itself,” said Delray Beach resident Emilee Silverman, who had been driving nearby when she saw the smoke, but didn’t know what had caused it. “I kept telling my friend that I really hope it’s just a building and that nobody was in it at the time.”
Moschella said she didn’t know what type of fuel the truck had been carrying, but it resulted in multiple subsequent explosions while the fire engulfed the truck. The fuel ran through a storm drain onto the west side of the highway, creating a “significant” second fire in the southbound lanes, though it caused no injuries.
Delray Beach, Boca Raton and Palm Beach County fire rescue teams all worked to put out the fires, dousing them in water and foam. Florida Highway Patrol, Delray Beach Police, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the scene.
To access water, they had to run hoses through holes along the highway walls and into neighborhood fire hydrants.
They managed to control the fire about an hour after it began, while officials investigated the crash, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue said in a tweet. The multi-vehicle crash shut down all lanes of the highway in both directions for several hours.
As of 5:30 p.m., both directions of the highway had reopened, with some lanes still closed for cleanup.