Several homes near the scene of the tanker truck crash...

Several homes near the scene of the tanker truck crash and subsequent explosion on Sunrise Highway in Bellmore nearly caught fire and plastic fences and siding melted from the heat, witnesses said. (Dec. 17, 2013) Credit: Lou Minutoli

A tanker truck flipped over and exploded on Sunrise Highway in Bellmore late Tuesday, lighting up the night sky with a huge fireball that came close to homes, spilling fuel and injuring two people, authorities and witnesses said.

Both victims -- the truck driver and the driver of a car that rear-ended the tanker -- were taken to a hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries, Nassau police said.

The tanker, which was going east, was rear-ended by a car stopped at a red light on Newbridge Road, police said. The truck overturned onto its side about 11:15 p.m., spilling fuel, catching on fire and traveling one block east to Brevoort Place.

The truck burst into flames across from a National Grid office and equipment facility and less than a block from Clinton Street, an opening to a residential neighborhood of single-family homes. The blaze reached an Auto Zone store and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership on Sunrise Highway.

Witnesses said several homes nearly caught fire and that plastic fences and siding melted from the heat. Police said the explosion caused an "undetermined amount" of damage.

Firefighters from at least 10 departments responded to the fire, which was under control by 12:15 a.m., officials said.

Neighbors in the residential community directly south of where the truck overturned said they heard a loud explosion and ran out of their homes to see thick, pitch-black smoke rising above the flames and the tanker's driver on his back on the center divider of Sunrise Highway.

Charles Odekirk, 53, who lives about a block away, said he was watching the news with his son when he heard the boom.

"The explosion shook the whole house and there was gas all over the place," said Odekirk, who jumped up from his couch and headed out the door toward the flames in just a T-shirt and shorts on a frigid night.

He said several neighbors headed toward the explosion as well, some in underwear and others in bathrobes and slippers.

"It's people's lives at stake, you do what you have to do," Odekirk said

Odekirk said he immediately headed toward one of the homes closest to the flames, where an elderly woman and her daughter live. He said the heat from the tanker flames was so intense it had melted the siding off several houses and a stream of leaking fuel had made its way under at least three cars, which caught fire.

"There was gas all over the place," Odekirk. "We were banging on doors trying to wake people up, trying to get people out of their homes."

Eventually, Odekirk's wife and son were able to wake up the elderly woman and carry her from the home, which was unbearably hot, he said.

The explosion also knocked out power for several homes in the area, Odekirk said.

By about 12:45 Wednesday morning, the flames had been knocked down by a combination of water and foam, officials said.

Sunrise Highway and Newbridge Road in both directions remained closed early Wednesday, as were Clinton and several other residential streets in the area. It was not known when the streets would be opened to traffic.

With Timothy Hughes

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