Survivors of a deadly multi-vehicle pileup on Interstate 75 south of Gainesville, Florida, blamed a blinding mixture of fog and smoke from a brush fire for the crash that killed 10 people and injured 18 others, some of them seriously. Much like the deadly December 29 pileup on I-10 in New Orleans, the Florida crashes involved a number of commercial vehicles, including six tractor trailers and what appeared to be a tour bus. At least a dozen other cars were involved in the crash.
The pileups occurred around 3:45 a.m. Sunday on both of I-75’s southbound and northbound stretches. Authorities said that the 18 injured people were rushed to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville, some with serious injuries. As of Monday, six patients remained in the trauma center while three others were admitted to other units.
According to the Associated Press, the dense fog and smoke prompted state officials to close the interstate for some time before the massive pileup. Investigators are looking at the decision to re-open the highway and probing possible causes of the brush fire, which the Florida Forest Service told the AP may have been intentionally set.
While the northbound section of I-75 has reopened, the southbound section remains closed to traffic. Parts of the interstate were heavily damaged, and wreckage was strewn for about a mile in both directions. The explosions and resulting fires melted parts of the highway and made investigations and cleanup more difficult.
The Florida Highway Patrol told the AP that while its standard procedure is to re-open the roads as quickly as possible, considering the tragic death toll, authorities planned to take as much time as needed to assess the situation.
The AP reports that first responders to the scene were so blinded by the fog and smoke that at first they could only listen to screams and moans coming from the wreckage. Some of the commercial trucks burst into flames, with cars crumpled into their sides or smashed underneath. According to the AP, “One tractor-trailer was burned down to its skeleton, charred pages of books and magazines in its cargo area. And the tires of every vehicle had burned away, leaving only steel belts.”
About 62 acres of brush continue to burn in the area, which has been contained by firefighters. The AP reported that another brush fire nearby has been burning since mid-November because the dry, dense vegetation is so deep. The marsh fire that investigators believe contributed to the recent New Orleans pileup has been burning since summer.