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Driver Risks Life To Move Burning Truck

November 3, 1987

PINE GROVE, Pa. (AP) _ A man jumped into his burning truck and moved it away from a restaurant moments before his cargo of propane tanks began exploding, sending yellow fireballs and shrapnel flying.

″He is the bravest man I’ve ever seen,″ said Jay Shealy, a North Carolina man who had stopped at the TTMA Family Restaurant along Interstate 81 on Monday evening.

″That restaurant and everybody in it could have gone up,″ he said.

Clotaire Castainer and Susan K. Klopfenstein, both of Palm Desert, Calif., stopped at the restaurant on a trip to California from Middletown, N.Y., where he operates one of his two hot air balloon tour services.

Fire Chief William Zimmerman speculated that the hot-air balloon and 10 propane tanks packed tightly in the trailer might have rubbed an electrical wire bare, and that a propane leak could have been ignited by a spark.

The back of the truck was burning as Castainer jumped in and moved the vehicle 40 feet, authorities said. He was pulling personal belongings from the truck when the blasts started.

″I thought I would lose him,″ said Ms. Klopfenstein.

″I heard a bang, and when I came out people were trying to put it out with fire extinguishers, but it got too hot,″ said Dean Schutte of Pine Grove, who was working at a nearby service station when the explosions began.

″One tank would go off and blow off all its gas, then the next would go off in a row,″ he said.

The fireballs rose 40 to 50 feet, and shock waves rattled windows hundreds of yards away, Schutte said. Flashes of light were visible for miles.

″It was just like bombs going off,″ said Jane Biddle, who was working the cash register.

Customers scrambled for the door to move their cars, although most stopped to pay their bills first, she said.

No one was injured, and serious damage was limited to the truck, trailer and cargo.

Firefighters extinguished the fire in about 10 minutes using foam.

Zimmerman said authorities were investigating whether the shipment was legal. He said he found no evidence the propane tanks had relief valves that could have prevented the explosions.

He also said the truck and trailer should not have been parked next to the restaurant but instead should have been parked with other trucks behind the building.

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