Few injuries in Cumberland blast Deputy fire chief calls it "a miracle" that gas-spill blast caused no deaths.

June 03, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

A Cumberland deputy fire chief is surprised that no one was seriously injured or killed in the raging fire that started after a tanker overturned and spilled 8,500 gallons of gasoline.

Eight homes were destroyed but hundreds of residents were evacuated before the fire erupted on Saturday.

"That's a miracle," Deputy Chief Jerry Davis said yesterday.

"I've had large fires before," said Davis, a 25-year-veteran, "but this could have been more loss of life than we ever had if things didn't work out the way they did."

He said, "I guess we're living right."

Yesterday, firefighters doused the stubborn remnants of the fire, which was still burning in one of the houses. Firefighters were also flushing the sewers of gasoline.

There has been no estimate of damage yet. The American Red Cross is helping the displaced families find shelter, Davis said.

"They're not going back in their homes," he said. The houses "have been demolished. They're totaled."

The fire occurred about 11:40 a.m. Saturday, some 30 minutes after Anthony Elgin Morris, 33, of Woodbridge, Va., drove the rig off U.S. 40/48. Morris told police he lost his brakes and turned sharply on the curving ramp to avoid slamming into the nearby houses.

The trailer overturned and then the cab, said Sgt. Philip Gilpin of the Cumberland police department.

The rig came to rest about 10 feet from the dwellings.

Morris, who police charged with negligent driving and driving a truck with defective brakes, received minor cuts, bumps and bruises.

The tanker and two homes exploded, Gilpin said.

Davis said a tragedy was avoided because Morris and passers-by knocked on doors and told people to leave their homes.

"It didn't ignite right away," Davis said, which allowed time for people to be evacuated.

At least 150 firefighters from at least 15 companies battled the fire, which was declared under control at 5:30 p.m., Davis said.

One firefighter received a sprained wrist and another a back injury, and both suffered from heat exhaustion, Davis said.

But there were no serious injuries among firefighters, he said. "That's a miracle, too."

A pilot light in a furnace apparently ignited the spilled gasoline, which caused at least three explosions, Davis said.

The fire closed the highway all Saturday afternoon and snarled traffic throughout the city.

Police investigators were to study the accident today.

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