FHP: Fatal crashes on I-95 in Volusia County likely due to ‘super fog’ from controlled burn

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Five fiery crashes killed three people traveling on I-95 in Volusia County overnight. Florida Highway Patrol says the crashes happened in north and southbound lanes in the New Smyrna Beach and Edgewater area – closing down one of the state’s busiest highways for hours Thursday.

FHP says smoke from a controlled burn – along with fog – likely caused the crashes.

RELATED STORY: 3 dead after 5 crashes close 18-mile stretch of I-95 in Volusia County

In Florida, there have been other deadly pileups after prescribed burns. In 2012, 11 people died on I-75 in Alachua County where authorities said there had been dense fog and smoke from controlled burns nearby at the time of the crashes. And in 2008, authorities said smoke and fog caused a 70-car pileup that killed five people on I-4 in Auburdale.

Julie Allen with the Florida Forest Service told Action News Jax the service is trying to determine what exactly happened to cause what FHP called “super fog” at the time of the wrecks.

A burn map on WhyPrescribedFire.org shows an active land-clearing residential pile burn just off Turnbull Bay Road – less than a mile from I-95. It’s not clear whether that fire had anything to do with the crashes.

Allen couldn’t tell Action News Jax about the burn in Volusia County that FHP had mentioned. She said the forest service is looking into it.

I-95, America’s longest North-South thoroughfare, and one of Florida’s most-traveled interstates has seen many deadly crashes over the years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deemed it the most dangerous highway in 2019, with almost 15 fatalities per 100 miles.

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Action News Jax has told you about at least four fatal crashes in our viewing area on I-95 in 2022, and at least eight deadly wrecks in 2021. Many of those crashes were in St. Johns and Duval counties. Some of the wrecks included pedestrian and motorcyclist fatalities.

In all, the wrecks in Volusia County near Edgewater Thursday involved 17 cars – a big mess for crews to clean up.

Action News Jax asked FHP for the number of deadly crashes on I-95 in Florida over the past five years. We’ll update this story with the answer.

Troopers say crews will have to make repairs to the roadway. They plan to be out there for several more hours Thursday evening. Drivers can expect I-95 to be closed from state roads 44 and 442 into the evening. A trooper on scene told Action News Jax drivers can take U.S. 1 as an alternate route to get around the closed section of I-95.

Julie Allen with the Florida Forest Service provided a timeline of the prescribed burn:

  • 07:15 - The Florida Forest Service issued a burn authorization to Mike Green of Miami Corp. The 161-acre prescribed burn was located on their property for the purposes of ecological and silvicultural purposes.
  • 10:00 – The Florida Forest Service sent an email to notify cooperators of all burn authorizations for the day, including Volusia County Fire and Florida Highway Patrol. The email notification includes the location of burns, who owns the property and the certified burner’s information.
  • 10:15 – Certified burner started the burn.
  • 14:00 – The prescribed fire was completed.
  • 17:00 – According to the certified burner, there was light haze over the prescribed burn area and no smoke columns were visualized at that time.
  • 21:00 – According to Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), a phone call was received at the FHP dispatch center where a caller indicated that they could smell smoke in the area along Interstate 95. FHP sent a trooper out to that area where the caller stated they could smell smoke and the trooper indicated that there was not a visibility issue at that time.
  • The forecasted surface wind direction for the burn was north to northeast at 8-10 mph with gusts to 18 mph. The nighttime forecast was from the northeast at 3 mph. All forecasted surface winds would carry smoke away from the interstate.
  • Forecasted transport wind direction for the day was north at 10 mph during the day and northeast to east at 2-3 mph. These winds would carry the main column of smoke in a south, southwest and westerly direction putting any fallout from the column away from the interstate.

To view daily burn authorizations throughout the state of Florida visit https://gis.fdacs.gov/portal/apps/View/index.html?appid=d2a4918c67b341ac91ad6d957d433f80