PLACER COUNTY (CBS13) — A fiery head-on crash along Highway 20 left two people dead and shut down nearly 40 miles of highway on Wednesday.

The California Highway Patrol says a tanker carrying fuel was driving southbound on Highway 20 near Yuba Gap and a tow truck was going in the opposite direction when they crashed.

The tanker belongs to Williams Tank Lines out of Stockton; the tow truck driver worked for Kilroy’s Towing in Grass Valley.
The smoke from the explosion could be seen for miles.

“When I got here it was a massive ball of flames and a large plume of black smoke,” said CHP Officer Chris Nave.

The flames were treacherous and hot for first responders to get close.

“A little bit of a helpless feeling when you do everything you can, but it’s not enough,” Nave said.

He says he had to stand back about 200 feet along with firefighters, hoping the flames would die down — but they didn’t.

“It has less environmental and health impacts on the community than it would if we were to extinguish and the spill that fuel all over,” said CAL Fire Battalion Chief Bryan Farrell.

Firefighters didn’t try to put out the fire. According to Farrell, the toxic chemicals from the tanker would make their way down the embankment and into a creek that eventually feeds into the Sacramento River.

“We are currently actively dyking and containing any runoff material, most of the runoff is being controlled by allowing it to burn,” Farrell said.

Highway 20 was shut down between Interstate 80 and Nevada City as first responders and hazmat crews work to clean up the spill.

CBS 13 reached out to Kilroy’s Towing for comment but was declined; Williams Tanker Lines has not yet responded to CBS13’s inquiry.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife tells CBS 13 its crews will be monitoring the area over the next few weeks to make sure no toxic chemicals or fuel seeped into the ground or the waterway.