GAINESVILLE (CBSMiami) — At least ten people died in a series of crashes apparently caused by heavy smoke and fog overnight on I-75 in north Florida and now officials are investigating whether an arsonist set the fire that caused the smoke that led to the deadly traffic crash near Gainesville.
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan said the pileups happened around 3:45 a.m. and closed all lanes in both directions as investigators began trying to figure out what caused the early morning crashes.
Riordan said this is the worst accident he’s seen in his 27-year career with FHP.
Officials say at least 18 were injured in the crashes on both sides of the interstate. At least five cars and six tractor-trailers were involved. A semi truck involved in the crash was still smoking hours after the accident.
Dr. Timothy Flynn, chief medical officer for Shands Healthcare, says three of the six patients being treated in the trauma center needed surgery. Four patients remain in the hospital’s emergency room, and eight people have been treated and released.
The highway had been closed briefly, before the accidents began, because of the fog and smoke.
“When the visibility cleared, we reopened the road,” Riordan said.
State forestry spokeswoman Ludie Bond said that the fire started Saturday. Officials know it wasn’t a controlled burn or caused by lightning, so it was either started accidentally or intentionally set.
Bond said the fire has burned 62 acres of prairie and is contained, but it continues to burn.
She said a similar fire has been burning in the area since mid-November because the vegetation is so thick and deep. She said no homes are currently threatened.