VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Thick fog and smoke leading to zero visibility are likely to blame in what Florida authorities are calling a 'mass casualty incident.'
Three people were killed in five separate crashes involving 17-vehicles in Volusia County about 1:30 a.m. Thursday on Interstate 95 near the New Smyrna Beach exit in the eastern part of the state.
"This is a phenomenon that happens throughout central Florida with our weather when we have the smoke and the fog mix, especially when it's cooler," said Lt. Kim Montes with the Florida Highway Patrol. "Especially in the overnight hours."
According to troopers, there were a total of five separate wrecks. Four crashes involving 11 vehicles with at least one confirmed fatality happened on the northbound side of the highway.
Another wreck was reported on the southbound side of the highway that involved six vehicles and two confirmed fatalities, according to FOX 35 in Orlando. Several people were also taken to a local hospital, including one child who has been listed in stable condition.
"We had several multi-vehicle crashes involving semi-trucks and other passenger vehicles," Montes said. "What we now know happened is there was almost zero visibility in the area based on smoke and fog that had mixed together and visibility dropped to zero."
Montes also said conditions like those observed early Thursday morning are common in central Florida.
I-95 reopened more than 24 hours after closing as crews worked overnight to repair the lanes.
Investigators said they would look at dashcam video to try and determine how the chain-reaction crash began.
Montes said drivers should remember that when thick fog and smoke is present, the best thing to do is activate your hazard lights, turn off your radio and if you feel uncomfortable, pull over.
Thursday’s deadly pileup isn’t the first time a major traffic incident has occurred due to the foggy and smoky conditions on Florida highways.
In the early morning hours of January 9, 2008, drivers encountered a mixture of smoke and fog on Interstate 4 in Polk County.
A total of 70 cars and trucks collided resulting in the deaths of five people and dozens of injuries, according to a report from the National Weather Service.