A crash involving a fuel delivery truck and a car sparked a spectacular fire on a major Connecticut highway bridge Friday, with flames spreading to the ground on one side and officials closing Interstate 95 in both directions during the blaze. . Authorities said the truck driver was killed and several other people were injured.
The accident happened just after 11 am on the south side of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge that carries the highway over the River Thames between New London and Groton. The Gold Star consists of two steel truss bridges, one for southbound traffic and the other for northbound traffic.
The northbound lanes soon reopened, and two of the southbound lanes reopened early Friday night, providing some relief for drivers. More than 60,000 vehicles a day travel through the stretches, according to state transportation commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.
Gov. Ned Lamont and other officials told an evening news conference that the truck spilled about 2,200 gallons of heating oil, some of it running into the river. State environmental teams worked to contain the spill.
“This was a tragic accident at 11:15 this morning,” Lamont said. “It appears that a passenger vehicle tire blew out, creating an incident” with the truck, which rolled over, he said. “Billing smoke, incredible flames, spilling through the pipes, spilling into the River Thames.”
Videos from the scene showed blazing flames and smoke billowing from a long section of the bridge and spreading toward the Groton side. Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick said burning debris fell from the bridge and ignited bushfires below, but no one on the ground was injured. He also said no buildings caught fire, which contradicts early state police reports.
After the fire was extinguished, videos showed that a part of the protective fence on the side of the bridge completely melted and burned on the road.
The New London mayor and fire marshal told the media that the truck driver was killed in the accident and that other people were taken to a hospital with serious injuries. Lamont said the injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.
The accident caused major traffic jams on the busy stretch of Interstate 95, the main north-south artery on the East Coast. The nearest bridge over the River Thames is about 11 miles to the north, which creates a long detour.
State Department of Transportation inspectors determined the bridge’s steel structure was undamaged, said Josh Morgan, an agency spokesman. It was not clear when the remaining lanes of the stretch will reopen.
Morgan also said there is extensive damage to the fences and travel lanes where the accident occurred. A pedestrian sidewalk that runs the length of the bridge remains closed.
The Gold Star Memorial Bridge, the largest passenger and truck bridge in Connecticut at 6,000 feet long, has undergone a major overhaul. In January, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited New London to announce that $158 million of a new federal infrastructure law would be awarded to expedite repairs on the northbound span.
Seth Bottone, 48, was leaving work to return home from Groton as he does every day, when he saw smoke and flames engulfing the bridge. Bottone took video of the flames and was audibly in shock.
“I saw the smoke from a distance, I thought it was something below,” he said. «As I got closer, I was like, ‘oh my gosh.'»
Bottone said police then directed traffic to turn around and head north.
Angelique Feliciano, 40, accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up on the bridge when the fire trucks arrived. Feliciano said he has seen numerous accidents in Groton but nothing like Friday’s incident.
“The road seemed to be on fire,” he said. «It was terrifying. I wanted to get off the bridge as soon as possible.»
The US Naval Submarine Base in New London is a short distance north of the bridge, and submarines stationed there have to travel under the Gold Star to reach the ocean.
Nina Basantes, a spokeswoman for the Navy, said the fire was not affecting operations at the submarine base. The Navy sent three fire trucks and a fire crew to the scene to assist with mutual aid.