Exact cause of 60 Freeway hydrogen truck fire a mystery


HACIENDA HEIGHTS — Details continued to emerge Friday regarding a hydrogen-hauling big rig that erupted into flames on the 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights, however the total destruction of the truck made it impossible to determine the exact cause of the fire, officials said.
The blaze in eastbound traffic lanes near Hacienda Boulevard drew a massive emergency response and forced the closure of both directions of the 60 Freeway for more than six hours, California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
The driver of the truck, a 39-year-old San Bernardino woman, escaped from her burning big rig unscathed, CHP Officer Joe Zizi said.
Officials intended to impound the charred truck, which displayed logos of the company Praxair, and thoroughly examine it to determine exactly what caused the fire, officials said. The truck was based out of Ontario.
“Unfortunately, the entire cab of the truck was burned to the ground,” he said. But officials suspected the fire was related to an engine problem.
With not enough truck left to examine, “We have to take the driver’s word for it that there was a pop in the engine,” Zizi said. Fire officials confirmed that the fire originated in the front section of the cab.
“(The driver) was able to get out before it got fully engulfed,” Zizi said. “The tried to get the fire extinguisher, but couldn’t get to it because of the flames.”
But the driver was able to quickly inform authorities that the truck contained 4,000 pounds of highly flammable compressed hydrogen gas, he said.
“The heat of the engine fire impinged on the trailer, and caused the pressure release piping to leak,” Zizi said. A pressure valve melted, and two pipes began leaking hydrogen gas, which ignited.
“There was 3 to 4 feet of flames coming from the hydrogen tanks,” Zizi said. “Fortunately, it wasn’t compromised completely.”
Fire Capt. Scott Miller said firefighters took a “defensive” stance as they poured water on the burning tractor-trailer for several hours. Even after the flames were extinguished, firefighters continued hosing down the tanks to make sure they had cooled entirely.
Officials allowed all of the remaining hydrogen to vent from the tanks before moving the big rig.
And although the big rig fire snarled traffic throughout the area and tied up emergency personnel for hours, “In a worst-case scenario, it could have been very terrible,” Zizi said. “Everybody did a great job.”
New York-based Praxair has a “satisfactory” rating with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The company consists of 749 drivers, and has better-than-average safety statistics in all categories.

PHOTO courtesy of the L.A. County Fire Department

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