Thousands of motorists were stuck in long tailbacks on the M6 today after a tanker carrying chemicals and paper burst into flames.
There were plumes of smoke and fireballs could be seen exploding as the lorry was engulfed in flames.
The fire started in the vehicle travelling north between junction three for Nuneaton and junction 3A for Coleshill South at 9.45am. The queues stretched for six miles along the southbound carriageway and for just over a mile along the northbound carriageway.
Motorists were warned to avoid the area and diversions were put in place.
The Highways Agency set up a 1,600ft exclusion zone and evacuated motorists from their vehicles. The motorway was closed from junction two for Coventry and junction four at Coleshill, in both directions and was expected to remain closed for several hours.
A total of 10 people were being treated for breathing difficulties after suffering the effects of inhaling the toxic fumes from the burning lorry.
A number of them had been transferred to hospital.
Scores of people whose cars were within the exclusion zone were left standing on the hard shoulder after evacuating their vehicles.
Highways bosses then evacuated motorists to the nearby Corley Services.
They were also starting the process of removing the central reservation to release the queuing traffic.
Highways spokeswoman Dee Smith said: “Due to the nature of the chemical, water cannot be used to extinguish the blaze, and therefore the fire service are allowing it to burn out. We are expecting it to take several more hours.”
Salesman Andrew Hawley, aged 29, of Copse Road, Dudley, was travelling to Coventry when he had to abandon his car.
He said: “There are families with young children and we have to stand in the cold on one of the coldest days of the year.”