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Several Atwater businesses remain closed after gas tanker fire

Cellphone video captures fire from deadly crash near Highway 99 in Atwater

Video submitted by Jacquelyn Johnson shows the fire from a deadly crash when a tanker truck caught fire near Applegate Road and Highway 99 in Atwater.
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Video submitted by Jacquelyn Johnson shows the fire from a deadly crash when a tanker truck caught fire near Applegate Road and Highway 99 in Atwater.

Several Atwater businesses off of Bell Drive remain closed Wednesday morning after a gas tanker scheduled to deliver 9,000 gallons of gas on Tuesday overturned and burst into flames.

Starbucks, Panda Express, Togo’s Sandwiches and 7-Eleven all are closed, said Officer Eric Zuniga with the California Highway Patrol. Barricades were erected, blocking access to the parking lots or storefronts of any of the businesses in the plaza.

The Applegate Drive offramp from Highway 99 remains closed. The California Department of Transportation has not said when the ramp is scheduled to reopen.

The AM-PM mini-mart and Arco gas station, however, is open for business Wednesday morning.

Kamal Dhaliwal, the owner of the gas station, said the convenience store and gas station didn’t sustain any major damage like other businesses in the area, such as McDonald’s.

“The tanker was scheduled to deliver to my station though, so we were seriously affected,” Dhaliwal said in a telephone interview with the Sun-Star on Wednesday morning.

About eight pumps remain closed, but others are open. The convenience store is open as well.

The gas station was shut down for about six or seven hours on Tuesday, she said, until another tanker with Williams Tank Lines delivered fuel.

Dhaliwal said she knew the driver of the truck that overturned on Tuesday. “He was one of our normal drivers,” she said.

The driver of the 2008 Peterbilt truck never made it out. His body was found inside the burned out truck cab. His name was not released Tuesday.

Mark Lawson, division chief with Calfire-Merced County, said the tanker truck was carrying about 9,000 gallons of gasoline on a delivery to the Arco gas station on Bell Lane. He said authorities fear the leaking truck may have dumped about 1,000 gallons of fuel into the gutter and that fuel may make its way into a drinking-water supply.

The cause of the crash the explosion remains under investigation, according to Officer Eric Zuniga of the California Highway Patrol.

Witnesses told investigators the truck, which was coming from Stockton, may already have been on fire around 10:02 a.m. when it left the freeway onto the Bell Lane exit. It reportedly overturned while exiting, Zuniga said, causing the trailer to “whip” behind the truck and into the onramp side of Bell Lane.

The Merced Sun-Star will have more updates on this story throughout the day.

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