by Peter Viles
On a busy highway slick with rain, a freak accident, two big rigs collided and set in motion a chain reaction, and a huge fire.
Like explosive dominoes, five or six big rigs and several passenger cars smashed into each other, and burned inside a short tunnel that cuts under interestate five.
The fire burned so hot, parts of the concrete tunnel exploded fears of structural damage kept firefighters out of the tunnel.
"The challenge was, to do a proper evaluation, they had to go inside the tunnel. But because of the conditions, it has not allowed us to do that, as of yet, from both sides of the tunnel," said Dep. Chief John Tripp with the L.A. County Fire Dept.
By mid-afternoon Saturday -- 14 hours after the fire started -- small flames were still visible inside the tunnel, 18-wheelers were reduced to burned shells as crews tried to remove the wreckage.
"We're gonna go very methodically, ten feet at a time, with firefighters and structural engineers, to assess what, exactly, is the structural stability of that tunnel," Tripp said.
Above the tunnel, Interstate five was completely shut down causing near gridlock north and south of the fire.
Two and a half hours, I've been less than ten miles.
"Almost three hours," one motorist said.
"My husband is a preacher, so he's going to preach -- late!" another motorist said.
"Is there an exit here soon? We're going to be out of gas in a minute," said another motorist.
Interstate five is the main north-south artery in California.
"It carries about 225-thousand vehicles a day, so it's obviously very vital that we shoot to get this roadway reopened as quickly as possible," Will Kempton, Exec. Director of the California Dept. of Transportation said.
But highway officials said there is so much cleanup and repair work to be done, it is possible a section of the Interstate will remain closed through Monday.