By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - Five men died on Thursday when their van slammed into a crude oil tanker truck and burst into flames on a highway in a South Texas oil field, police said.
The five, who are believed to be oil field workers, were killed around 8:15 a.m. local time (CT) in the Eagle Ford Shale in Dimmit County, in the heart of the fracking field southwest of San Antonio, state trooper Maria Loredo told Reuters.
Three others were injured, Loredo said.
The crash happened when a pickup traveling in front of the tanker carrying the crude oil made a left turn off a state highway, Loredo said.
"The tractor-trailer that was behind the pickup took evasive action to miss it as it was turning, and lost control and turned over," Loredo said. "The tank remained on the highway and the two vehicles behind it ran into the tank and were engulfed in flames."
The driver of the fourth vehicle suffered burns over 85 percent of his body and was airlifted to a San Antonio hospital in critical condition, Loredo said.
The driver of the pickup that was making the left turn and the driver of the tanker suffered less serious injuries, she said.
The accident is still under investigation by state police, Loredo said.
Motor vehicle accidents have become a major problem in rural South Texas, as the fracking boom has led to a huge amount of truck traffic on roads meant for light trucks and farming vehicles.
Another contributing factor to collisions is the long hours worked by many oil field employees.
Due to a lack of housing in the remote Texas brush country, many oilfield services firms have workers on duty for 12-hour stretches for three days a week, so they can return to their homes in San Antonio or nearby Corpus Christi four days a week.
(Edited by Karen Brooks and Andrew Hay)