SAN PABLO, Calif. (KTVU) - A big rig hauling roughly 1,000 live chickens swerved on Interstate 80 in San Pablo early Thursday morning, hitting the center divide, then another car before bursting into flames, killing about 800 of the birds on board.
About 200 birds were left wandering around the freeway.
"This is very unusual," said Rodeo-Hercules Fire District Battalion Chief Darren Johnson. "This is one of the top five calls I have been on in my career."
The crash, reported about 3:30 a.m. in the westbound direction of San Pablo Dam Road, didn't cause any major injuries.
It did, however, create a fiery spectacle and a traffic nightmare on the MacArthur Maze near the east end of the Bay Bridge.
The California Highway Patrol said the chickens were en route to a processing plant. That prompted some environmentalists to sneak out to the freeway later in the morning to rescue the chickens from their fate and the plant. Animal rights activist, Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, issued a statement about how awful it is that 9 billion chickens are slaughtered each year in the United States.
Sgt. Curtis Glace advised drivers to try to find another way to work as animal control officers needed time to collect the chickens and give Caltrans time to clean up the oil and debris from the road.
Contra Costa County Animal Services Capt. Jane Andreotti said about 4 /12 hours after the crash, the chickens were rounded up and loaded onto trucks.
Glace said that the driver of the rig, who was slightly injured, overcorrected on the road before he swerved into the center divide and then another car. Glace said the agency is looking into whether he may have fallen asleep.
The rig also struck Stacy Baber's car, who was shaken, but not injured.
"Once I saw him jackknife, then I saw smoke," Baber said. "My air bags went off and I didn't have any control of anything else. I thought oh glory to God because I thought I was going to be dead this morning."
Baber saw the driver exit his rig screaming and calling 911.
"I just saw all the chickens jumping around," he said. "I'm just thankful the driver is OK."
The freeway reopened at noon.
KTVU's Lisa Fernandez and Hau Kuiang contributed to this report.