Terrified drivers abandoned their cars and ran for their lives after a chemical tanker exploded into a 50ft fireball on a busy motorway this morning.
Four firefighters and five motorists needed medical treatment after being overcome by the toxic fumes billowing from the tanker after it was engulfed in flames on the M6 near Coventry.
Police say the HGV was carrying hydrochloride when one of its tyres had a blow-out on the northbound carriageway between junction 3 for Nuneaton and junction 3a for Coleshill South.
The driver is believed to have managed to pull over onto the hard shoulder but sparks caused a small fire which then ignited the hazardous chemicals on board.
Police closed both lanes of the motorway between junction 3 and 4 while the Highways Agency set up an 800m (2,600ft) exclusion zone while drivers were evacuated from their cars.
Emergency crews, including three ambulances, a rapid response vehicle and specialist hazardous area response teams rushed to the scene after the tanker blew up at 9.40am.
Warwickshire Police said the vehicle was travelling on the northbound carriageway had suffered a tyre blow-out which caught fire which ingnited the chemicals the lorry was carrying.
Nearby residents were told to keep their windows closed and drivers were warned to expect “massive tailbacks” after police also closed the slip road from Corley Services.
A force spokeswoman said: “Due to the motorway being closed there is a massive tailback of traffic and we are currently advising people to stay away from the area.
“Fire service are in attendance at the moment at the vehicle and it looks like it could be quite a long job.”
Drivers posted pictures of the devastating blast on Twitter showing the flames shooting 50ft into the air.
Personal trainer Hannah Light was among those stuck in the traffic.
She tweeted: “Sat on M6 because lorry on fire. Gonna be here for two hours.”
John Anton posted: “Looks like the end of the world. Flames going at least 50 feet in the air.”
A spokesman for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue said the tanker was “well ablaze” one mile north of Corley Services.
He added: “We are still assessing the best way to tackle the fire. An exclusion zone has been set up to safeguard motorists and the public.”
A spokesperson for West Midlands Ambulance Service said: “We were called at around 9.40am to reports of a lorry on fire.
“We sent four ambulances, two officers and specialist hazardous area response team.
“The fire has closed both sides of the motorway and in total we have treated nine patients at the scene – four of which are firefighters and one is the driver of the HGV.
“The other casualties were drivers of other cars who had stopped as a result of the fire.
“All nine were complaining of breathing difficulties brought on by breathing in chemical fumes coming from the lorry.
“Due to the toxic nature of the fumes all patients were taken to hospital.
“The incident is still ongoing.”