SANTA PAULA (CBSLA.com) — The explosion of a vacuum truck Tuesday forced the evacuation of a neighborhood and businesses and sent several people to hospitals in Ventura County.

Approximately 1,000 gallons of an organic peroxide exploded from the truck about 3:45 a.m. at the Santa Clara Waste Water Co. in Santa Paula, the Ventura County Fire Department said.

The chemical, which is unstable and has sparked spontaneous explosions, spread across a nearly-400-foot radius.

“It’s water reactive. If we were to put water on it, there is potential that we would accelerate the reaction,” Fire Department Capt. Mike Lindberry said. “Right now, we are letting the areas on fire burn down.”

Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation for residents within 1 mile of the scene. The Red Cross set up a shelter for residents at 530 W. Main Street in Santa Paula.

Those living 2-3 miles downwind of the location were advised to shelter in place.

PHOTOS: Santa Paula Vacuum Truck Explosion

A man inside the truck, an ambulance driver and three firefighters were transported to the Ventura County Medical Center with injuries. Another truck passenger was treated at the scene.

Officials said the chemical has also sickened at least 12 hospital employees at the VCMC emergency room. The hospital was working to contain the ER in order to prevent the chemical from affecting additional personnel, Ventura Fire Department Chief Douglas Miser said.

“Patients are walking into other facilities that weren’t treated on scene. It’s very common in these types of incidents that patients can leave the scene thinking nothing’s wrong . . . then show up at hospitals,” nurse Sara Melgosa said.

The cause of the explosion was unclear.

The Oxnard, Simi Valley and Los Angeles County fire departments were also assisting Ventura fire personnel in the full HazMat response.

Highway 126 between Peck and Wells roads was shut down until about 1:20 p.m. Mission Rock Road remained closed.

The Briggs School District has closed both of its campuses.

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A website and public hotline for emergency information has been set up at (805)465-6650.

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