A Southern California mountain highway was closed Friday – and could remain shut down for several weeks – after a tanker truck overturned, spilling some 10,000 gallons of fuel in the Angelus Oaks area, near Big Bear Lake.
State Route 38 was closed after the 9:35 a.m. crash from Angelus Oaks to Camp Cedar Falls, a stretch of about three miles (map) through the San Bernardino National Forest.
Hazardous cleanup was required, according to a statement from Caltrans (PDF). Officials on scene said responding environmental agencies built dirt dams to try to contain the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Thousands of gallons of fuel may have leaked into a creek about 50 yards downhill that feeds into the Santa Ana River, which provides water to cities in the Inland Empire. Water agencies have been notified of potential contamination, officials on scene said, but added that there is no cause for public concern yet.
"We have to determine exactly how much did get into the water and how far it has gone," said John Miller of the U.S. Forest Service.
A spokeswoman with the East Valley Water District said the agency's water is safe since it has cut off suply from the Santa Ana River and is using other sources to serve customers. Fuel did get into Cold Creek, said Kelly Malloy of the district, adding that her and other water districts are testing supply to determine if it is safe.
Both tankers being towed by the truck were ruptured when the vehicle overturned, and federal and state agencies were responding. Experts on Friday afternoon were testing the water and air downstream to see how much fuel leaked into the creek.
Just before 6 p.m., two large tow trucks were on scene trying to flip the tanker back onto its wheels.
The driver told the California Highway Patrol that he was headed from Upland to Big Bear to deliver fuel when he lost control.
"He did advise us that the load had shifted on him and that caused the overturn of the vehicle," said CHP Lt. Kevin Porter.
Porter said the roadway could be closed "as long as a week, maybe several weeks."
Barton Flats recreation area can only be access from Big Bear, Caltrans said, adding that no forest
roads, trails or recreations facilities have been closed.
CHP investigators said the crash site is considered a crime scene because of environmental damage. Neither drugs nor alcohol are being considered a factor in the crash.
Motorists traveling to and from the mountain resort of Big Bear were advised to take Highway 330 or Highway 18.
The highway closure is expected to last at least until Saturday and possibly "long term" because of the cleanup required, Caltrans said.
View Highway 38 Closed After Tanker Spill in a larger map