Nightly News   |  January 29, 2012

Deadly crashes close I-75

A mix of fog and smoke from a brushfire is being blamed for a series of highway accidents near Orlando, Fla. NBC’s Lilia Luciano reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> tonight a stretch of i-75 remains closed in florida . 15 hours after a deadly pileup this morning. cars, trucks and tractor-trailers collided in a mangled mess as a brush fire raged nearby. blinded by haze and smoke, rescuers rushed to help as crashes continued to happen all around them. tonight there are questions about why that stretch of highway was open in the first place. we get our record from nbc's lilja luciano.

>> reporter: it's hard to tell from the cluster of these blurnt-out shells how many vehicles came crashing together on florida 's interstate 75 north of orlando early this morning. witnesses describe the scene as looking like it was the end of the world . police say at least ten people are dead and some 20 others injured after a blinding mix of heavy fog and thick smoke from a nearby brush fire blew across the highway, reducing visibility and causing havoc on both north and southbound sides of the highway.

>> smoke and fog settled over the area quickly and dismated the visibility.

>> reporter: highway patrol officials say they closed the road earlier but reopened it deciding visibility had improved enough and traffic was light at the time. not long after the deadly collisions began. thes started around 3:45 in the morning. when rescuers arrived police say visibility was so poor they could only find the victims by following their screams for help. officials say there were seven tractor-trailers and at least 12 passenger vehicles involved in the pileup. rescue crews were still removing bodies from the site well into the afternoon. peeling off the tops of cars to extract trapped victims. nearly 15 miles of i-75, the interstate that runs north to south on the western side of florida , remained closed throughout the day as investigators worked the scene. authorities say the brush fire that started saturday afternoon was not natural and could have been intentionally set. lilja luciano, nbc news, miami.