Smoke in Florida pileup may have come from deliberately set fire

The smoke suspected of contributing to a fiery, multicar pileup on Interstate 75 in Florida early Sunday may have come from a deliberately set fire. The pileup killed 10 people, injured 18 and left a mile-long trail of wreckage.

The scene looked, one witness said, "like the end of the world."

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are joining the Florida Highway Patrol in efforts to pinpoint the cause of the chain-reaction wreck, which occurred near Gainesville at about 3:45 a.m. Sunday and spanned both the northbound and southbound lanes.

PHOTOS: Florida interstate pileup

Low visibility, possibly caused by a combination of fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire, appear to have played a role, forcing cars, trucks and motor homes to suddenly slow down and pull over -- and begin slamming into each other. Cars burst into flames. Trucks crushed smaller vehicles.

"In that area, the road, it kind of dips down, it's a low area, we had a mixture of fog and smoke that combined and kind of laid into that area, [and] made visibility a factor," Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan said (see video above).

Authorities had shut down the stretch of road earlier in the evening due to a crash, but reopened it later. No doubt, questions will be raised about whether the roadway should have remained closed for public safety.

Eyewitness Steven R. Camps of Gainesville attempted to describe the accident to the Gainesville Sun: “It looked like someone was literally throwing cars,” he said. “I honestly sat there and thought I would never get out of that situation alive, even after I got out of the car.”

He told CBS News: "You could hear cars hitting each other. People were crying. People were screaming. It was crazy." He said he had been driving home with friends when he found himself staring down the carnage. "I would say it looked like the end of the world."

Before the investigation is over, it could turn into a criminal investigation, CBS said. State officials can find no natural cause, no natural explanation like a lightning strike, that could have started the brush fire. They say it may have been intentionally set.

The highway has since been reopened to traffic.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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