Three people were killed in a series of crashes involving 17 vehicles early Thursday along a stretch of Interstate 95 in Florida where visibility was very low due to fog combined with smoke from prescribed burns of vegetation, officials said.
The crashes began around 1:30 a.m. south of Daytona Beach, according to Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson Kim Montes. She said there were four separate crashes involving 11 vehicles on the northbound side and one crash involving six vehicles heading southbound.
A traffic camera captured a tractor trailer consumed by flames and explosions that sent flames and smoke shooting skyward. Other video from the scene showed a car crushed under the front of a tractor trailer.
Interstate 95 is the primary north-south highway artery along the U.S. East Coast, running from South Florida to Maine.
“Fog and smoke were in the area at the time,” Montes told The Associated Press. The smoke was lingering from prescribed burns in the area, and the National Weather Service had warned on Twitter of very low visibility, issuing a dense fog advisory for coastal Volusia County near Edgewater.
For drivers traveling along the interstate at highway speeds, such conditions can be disorienting.
“It’s totally fine and then you run into a wall of that smog. You get an incredibly sharp drop in visibility,” WFTV meteorologist Brian Shields said.
Two of the dead were traveling south, while the other person died in a northbound crash, Montes said. A child who was airlifted to Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children was in stable condition, and multiple people were taken to a Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach.
The highway remained closed at 7 a.m. Thursday for an 18-mile stretch, and motorists were being rerouted to U.S. 1.
Northbound lanes of the interstate were damaged due to the crashes and fire. Once the debris is cleared, three northbound lanes will need to be re-paved before they can be reopened, Montes said in an email.
Prescribed burns by private landowners and government agencies regularly take place in Florida to eliminate potential fuel for uncontrolled wildfires and to promote new plant growth for wildlife, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.