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1 dead, fires break out after tanker rolls over in Saugus

Firefighters hosed down the wreckage of a gasoline tanker that rolled over on Route 1 North in Saugus near the Square One Mall early Saturday Morning, closing the highway, and starting fires as the gas spilled into storm drains into the surrounding neighborhood. (Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe) Firefighters hosed down the wreckage of a gasoline tanker that rolled over on Route 1 North in Saugus near the Square One Mall early Saturday Morning, closing the highway, and starting fires as the gas spilled into storm drains into the surrounding neighborhood. (Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe)
By John Guilfoil
Globe Staff / July 23, 2011

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SAUGUS – The right lanes only have reopened on Rt. 1 north and south.

Officials continue to investigate reports of natural gas odors in the area, and the fear is that the explosion cracked gas lines below ground, State Police said. Worker at the nearby Burger King and Walgreens have reported odors.

“This remains under investigation by Saugus Fire and National grid,” said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.

The 93 Fast 14 weekend construction project continues today, so travelers in the North Shore should plan accordingly and be ready for heavy backups.

One person died after a tanker truck carrying a full load of fuel crashed into a median, rolled over, and exploded today on Route 1, sparking fires in the neighborhood near Essex Street, according to State Police.

The driver of the truck, which belongs to PJ Murphy Transportation of Methuen, was heading north on Route 1 when something caused him to lose control, crash, and roll the truck across the guardrail and into the southbound lane of the divided highway around 2:15 a.m., said Procopio said.

The driver, whose name has not been released, was killed. Several other people from at least four vehicles were taken to hospitals in Boston and Melrose, police said.

Route 1 was closed in both directions for several hours. The Essex Street overpass was also closed while officials await an engineer to determine if it is structurally sound. The overpass was later deemed safe.

The nearby Square One Mall was set to open at 10 a.m. today, according to a mall spokeswoman.

Fuel from the crash seeped into the storm-drain system and pooled at various locations nearby, causing several more serious fires, Procopio said.

At one point, a fireball could be seen from a greenhouse. At least one home was damaged, and fuel sparked several brush fires in the area. Fuel also collected in a nearby stream and ignited, sending a plume of smoke rising into the sky.

Two firefighters were also hurt battling the fires.

The Saugus Fire Department called out an eight-alarm response. Fire crews from Boston, Revere, Chelsea, Woburn, Somerville, Belmont, Cambridge, Lynn, Lynnfield, Burlington, Danvers, Stoneham, Malden, Winchester, Medford, Wakefield, Everett, and Winthrop responded. Blanchard thanked the mutual aid units, but also singled out special units from the Massport Fire Department, whose chemical foam equipment, used for putting out aircraft fires, helped contain the massive amount of gasoline.

“We had to get foam in there, and we needed lots of it,” Blanchard said. “Without foam, there’s no hope of controlling the fire. Massport did a magnificent job.”

Multiple vehicles at the scene had burned down to their frames, with tires burned completely off the wheels in several spots.

The smell of gasoline still lingered in the air near the scene three hours after the crash.

Andrew Mahoney and David Pierce of the Boston.com staff, and Globe Correspondents Christopher J. Girard and Alexander C. Kaufman contributed to this report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globe_guilfoil