Highway 400 remains closed between County Road 88 and Highway 89.
At least three people are dead after a chain-reaction collision involving 14 vehicles caused a massive fireball on Highway 400 near Bradford.
Police said the crash happened around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday in the northbound lanes of the highway between County Road 88 and Highway 89.
“The vehicles that were involved, approximately 14 or more vehicles, five commercial vehicles, at least two fuel tankers,” Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told reporters on the scene.
“Those fuel tankers are both ruptured and burnt. Fireballs, explosions that continued for about two and a half hours.”
Police said there was a collision 40 minutes prior to the chain reaction crash about one kilometre away involving three vehicles that may have played a role in the event.
“There was traffic that was queuing because of lane restrictions due to a second collision that had happened just prior,” Schmidt said.
“At some point, traffic was slowing, and the last vehicle in the line appeared to have smashed through all these vehicles and set off a chain reaction, fireball explosions with multiple fatalities.”
Schmidt confirmed during a noon press conference on Wednesday that at least three people died at the scene and several more were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Police said a forensic pathology team was called to the scene to determine the identity of the deceased.
“We’re going to need help from next-of-kin and we’re working with the coroner’s office and forensics to first get into the vehicles and find out what sort of remains are there, if any,” Schmidt said.
“The damage to those involved vehicles is absolutely catastrophic and I can’t tell you if those people got out, if they’re still inside those vehicles.”
Police believe a transport truck carrying fuel collided into another fuel tanker ahead of it and caused a massive fire.
“For a collision of this significance, it would appear that it was a transport truck that came in and launched this chain reaction,” Schmidt said.
“I have never seen a collision scene of this magnitude with this significance. It is almost Armageddon. There are cars, twisted metal, debris everywhere.”
OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes told reporters at the scene that it is “likely the transport truck never stopped.”
Police said investigators will be looking at human factors, as well as mechanical issues, to determine what exactly led to the crash.
“There were no environmental conditions I am aware of,” Schmidt said. “It was cool but the road conditions were bare. Environmental conditions were clear.”
A witness who was driving on Highway 400, a stretch of road that has been under construction for months, told Global News he saw the initial crash involving the transport truck.
“I just saw on the corner of my eye a large transport slam nose first into a vehicle transport,” Vincent Di Pinto said. “Basically the second vehicle, the white transport, had literally rode right up the vehicle transport.”
“The third vehicle which was a diesel vehicle carrying diesel fuel, it was laying in the quad, nose first and it was almost entirely engulfed in flames.”
Di Pinto said the trucks continued burning for at least half an hour.
“I got out and just looked back and explosions. One explosion after another. Orange flames in the sky,” he said.
“My understanding is by speaking to the driver of the diesel fuel vehicle, that it was laden with fuel and it was just flames shooting out maybe 200 or 300-plus feet in the air.”
Another driver told Global News he was travelling southbound near the scene of the collision when he hit the brakes.
“I’m still shaking. I can’t believe what I saw, a fireball,” Robert Bianchi said. “I just stepped on my brake because I didn’t want to drive by the fire.”
“I stopped and backed up a little bit. I saw people running over there and screaming. It was crazy.”
The OPP issued a warning to drivers last week over the number of fatal crashes involving commercial vehicles.
At that press conference, multiple victims’ family members spoke about the impact the loss of their loved ones have had on their lives.
Speaking Wednesday, Hawkes said all you have to do is remember those words.
“This is all about the victims — you heard the message they were delivering, how their lives have changed,” he said. “That message of when their loved ones died, they died.
“We have to take this seriously.”
— Mike Croucher (@Lcvmike) November 1, 2017
— elle (@dixonsvixenn) November 1, 2017
— Toronto News JASON (@FirstNewsGTA) November 1, 2017
— DR (@Media371) November 1, 2017
— Sgt Kerry Schmidt (@OPP_HSD) November 1, 2017
— Sgt Kerry Schmidt (@OPP_HSD) November 1, 2017
— OPP GTA Traffic (@OPP_GTATraffic) November 1, 2017