ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY (WDBJ7) The fire started around 6 am, catching on the back wheels of the cab and spreading to the trailer.
The driver pulled over to unhitch the trailer, but fire fighters say he found the heat too intense.
While cleanup went on, all of northbound 81 was closed, causing backups for more than eight miles, and detouring traffic to Route 11 into the Lexington area.
It’s the sort of thing that no one wants as crowds head out on their holiday journeys.
“It’s almost like dropping a ping pong ball in a room full of mousetraps," says Ken Slack of VDOT's Staunton District. "It just kind of sets of a chain reaction where you’ve got the combination of heavy holiday traffic, early morning commuter traffic, plus you throw in an incident that closes both lanes in one direction, and you certainly run into some serious issues.”
Traffic in the area was slow for hours afterward, although otherwise the holiday travel seemed relatively problem free.
In the Fairfield rest stop, about ten miles north of the fire, things were busy. But travelers said they had seen no real delays.
“There’s a lot of truck traffic that tends to slow things up a bit, but all in all it’s pretty steady traffic,” says Bob Martin, driving from Richmond.
“The road system is fabulous. It’s just that everybody’s on it,” says Mary Ross of Montreal, Canada, on her way to Florida.
Not quite as bad, VDOT says, as the busiest time of year: Thanksgiving. But one that comes with its own problems because of two holidays spread of a week’s time.
“It’s definitely a challenge for us, and it’s a good solid ten days of challenge,” explains VDOT's Slack.