A big rig carrying a liquid cleaning solution crashed and exploded into flames Wednesday afternoon south of Chowchilla, the California Highway Patrol reports.
The CHP reported that Highway 152 is closed and traffic from both directions and is being diverted off Avenue 17-1/2. Also, southbound Highway 99 is closed at Avenue 24, near Chowchilla.
As of 3:30 p.m., Caltrans reports that northbound Highway 99 traffic is backed up nine miles south of the crash site, and southbound traffic is backed up five miles. Roads where traffic was diverted from Highway 99 and Highway 152 have miles of backups.
The highways may fully reopen between 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. One northbound lane was open at 5:45 p.m. The lane to westbound Highway 152 remains closed.
It was the second fiery truck crash in two days in the Central Valley. On Tuesday, a gas truck crashed and exploded near Atwater, killing the driver and setting off hours of delay on Highway 99 near Applegate Avenue, 25 miles north of Chowchilla.
The truck was traveling from Highway 99 to Highway 152 west when it struck a guardrail and jack-knifed, coming to rest on the transition over Highway 99, said Lt. Alfredo Vasquez. It caught fire and exploded, sparking a grass fire about 12:30 p.m.
There were no injuries in the crash, Vasquez said.
A hazardous material team from Madera County was dispatched to the scene, but workers couldn’t get to the crash site until the chemical is identified and the fire around the truck continues to burn, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn.
The fire was still burning around the truck at 6 p.m., Rahn said.
Madera County Fire Battalion Chief Danny Suarez said the grass fire was contained to 5 acres.
Reports initially indicated the truck was carrying a sulfur-like powder and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office later reported it was carrying fertilizer.
Some residents were evacuated in the immediate vicinity of the crash and other residents within a half-mile perimeter were ordered to stay inside their homes, said Madera County Supervisor David Rogers, who lives about a mile from the crash site.
“It has a potential for explosion,” he said.
Because the danger of the chemical was unknown, students and staff at Fairmead Elementary School, about a mile from the crash, were told to shelter in place from about 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., when they were permitted to leave school. Fairmead Elementary has 470 fifth- and sixth-grade students.
Traffic was slowing to about 5 mph on Highway 99 north of Avenue 17 and the traffic is scant on southbound Highway 99, south of Avenue 18-1/2, Rogers said.