PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Residents in the communities of Valencia Shores and Isola Bella in southern Palm Beach County said the view from their homes along Florida's Turnpike was like a horror movie Friday morning.
A fuel tanker truck crashed, exploded and erupted in flames on the Turnpike west of Boynton Beach, shutting down all lanes of the highway and causing major traffic backups for miles.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue said shortly before 6 a.m. the tanker crashed about a quarter of a mile from Stan Reich's home.
Region S Palm Beach County
'It was horrifying,' neighbor says of ferocious Turnpike fire
"I heard a boom," Reich said. "I walked outside to see if something had fallen over, and that's when I saw the smoke coming up over the trees."
Reich took a picture of WPTV Chopper 5's morning coverage, marking the too-close-for-comfort distance between his home and the blooming black smoke.
"I kind of ran back and forth to catch the news, then catch it live," Reich said. "It was just 'snap, crackle, pop', like wet wood burning. It was popping and cracking. Luckily, I had my phone, and I just started taking some pictures. It was surreal. It was just really crazy."
On the other side of the neighborhood, a woman who only wanted to go by the name Lisa, showed WPTV cellphone video of the smoke creeping over the neighborhood hours after two loud booms rattled her home.
"Just like, a shake, that's what startled me, that's what woke me up," Lisa said. "When I came outside on my balcony, the amount of smoke and the smoke coming in, I went back inside right away because I didn't want to take any chances."
Andrea Peleg captured a fiery scorching spire choking the air, and Susan Johnson took video of a crackling inferno burning right next to her backyard.
Her daughter, Claire Johnson, recorded video of the chaos on the Turnpike from the Hypoluxo Road overpass on the way to school.
"That was pretty scary to see," Lisa said. "I can't even imagine being on the Turnpike."
Normally, Sherri and Sandy Bearman, who live in Valencia Shores, would have been driving on the Turnpike to a doctor's appointment or to run errands.
"We're lucky because we were on it yesterday!" Sandy Bearman said.
Patty Tuttle, who spoke to WPTV while walking her dog, Fred, was also thankful to have heard the boom while in the safety of Valencia Shores' gates.
"[Fred] heard the explosion this morning. The tank itself was metal and it exploded, and then the road was on fire," Tuttle said. "At that point, I heard helicopters everywhere."
As the smoke cleared, lanes started moving again and sirens faded. As harrowing an experience as it was, Reich and the others said they were just thankful everyone made it out OK and that no homes were affected.
"That was my second thought. Is this dangerous? Should we evacuate? I wasn't sure," Reich said.