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Updated: Sat, 16 Nov 2013 00:25:43 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Smoky fire likely caused 17-vehicle crash on Trans-Canada



A smoky campfire under a bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway may have caused a 17-vehicle crash Friday morning in Chilliwack, B.C., a rural community east of Vancouver. CBC

A smoky campfire under a bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway may have caused a 17-vehicle crash Friday morning in Chilliwack, B.C., a rural community east of Vancouver. CBC

A smoky campfire under a bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway may have caused a 17-vehicle crash Friday morning in Chilliwack, B.C., a rural community east of Vancouver.

The chain-reaction crash happened in the westbound lane of Highway 1 as rush-hour traffic was crossing the Vedder Canal Bridge.

The highway was closed in both directions after the crash, but was reopened just before noon.

While police have confirmed there were no fatalities, BC Ambulance said 12 injured people were taken to nearby hospitals, in Langley, Abbotsford and Mission.

As of 5:40 p.m. PT, 11 people had been discharged. One person remains in hospital in Abbotsford in stable condition, the Fraser Health Authority said.

Police are blaming thick smoke from a bonfire under the bridge for blinding the driver of a vehicle travelling ahead of a Greyhound bus and resulting in the crash. Police have speculated the fire was set by fishermen trying to keep warm.

Bus passengers injured

Witness Mihai Serban told CBC News that despite the large number of vehicles involved, he did not think the injuries were too serious.

"I haven't seen any ambulances. Everything seems to be calm. I saw some people using the Jaws of Life on a car right in front of the bus, the firemen. I'm not seeing any ambulance," he said.

Serban said he arrived on the scene shortly after the crash.

 "When I got to the highway, the bridge — the Greyhound bus was on the first half of the bridge and in front of it there were two pretty smashed cars, and pretty much all of the rear of the bus is cars sandwiched."

He also said he thought the fire had been was set by a homeless person. Local newspapers have reported the fire may have been set to burn the plastic covers off of copper wire.

"From what I understood, the homeless person was doing a fire underneath the bridge and the smoke was pretty thick, and that's what caused the accident," Serban speculated.

Greyhound company officials confirmed the bus — No. 5407 — was heading from Kamloops to Vancouver at the time of the crash with 37 people on board.

John McCord was a passenger on the bus.

"We were just sort of waking up, it was time to arrive in Vancouver, and all of a sudden, bang, we were on the floor," he told CBC News.

"It was huge, it was like hitting a brick wall. We couldn't see anything outside, we couldn't see brake lights and then all of sudden, boom."

Five people on the bus suffered minor injuries, but no one was taken to hospital. The passengers were briefly trapped after the accident because the damaged front door could not be opened.

A second bus was sent to pick up the passengers and take them to Vancouver. The bus was expected to arrive in Vancouver around 2 p.m. PT.

According to the ICBC, 19 accidents on the bridge were reported to police over the past five years.

In an email statement, a provincial transportation ministry spokesperson said the RCMP is investigating the cause of the crash, adding that roadside barriers, reflectors, rumble strips and extra signage were implemented in 2010 in an effort to increase safety on the bridge.

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