See video of the crash scene

Smoke from a nearby fireworks display is being investigated as the potential cause of a 34-vehicle crash that left at least seven dead and more than 51 injured in what is being called the worst traffic accident in the United Kingdom in the last 20 years.

A “smoke bank” emanating from a fireworks display held at Taunton rugby club was reported by eyewitnesses close to the M5 pileup Friday night in Somerset that “threatens to become the worst motorway accident in British history,” according to the Guardian. Investigators spent the weekend sifting through the skeletal remains of semis and cars burned to the ground in a grizzly search for victims of the horrific crash.

Weather forecasters told the Guardian conditions had been misty in the area of the incident and any bonfires burning nearby could have made things worse. “The particles bonfires release encourage fog droplets to form,” according to Gareth Harvey, a forecaster at MeteoGroup. “By 9 p.m. there were weather stations in the county reporting visibility down to 100 metres. The roads would also have been wet due to an earlier deluge.”

Eyewitnesses reported how the crash triggered a massive fireball that could be seen miles away, according to the Guardian report. “People were trapped in their vehicles. I heard people screaming and children crying. There was also fuel which had spilled on to the road surface which was exploding,” one witness told reporters.

Those involved claim the pile-up was triggered shortly after an Iceland truck vanished in the fog. “A black fog came down and the Iceland truck literally disappeared. We managed to brake and miss the lorry but it was too late, the carnage had already started,” Ciara Neno, from Weston-super-Mare, told the Mirror. “All we heard was thump, thump, thump. My husband dragged people from the cars, the smell was horrendous and there were a number of explosions. We walked away but other people weren’t so lucky.”

“I could see the flames from quite a way back,” Simon Bruford, 38, from Williton in Somerset, reportedly said. He was driving south at the time of the collision. “I spent 18 years in the Somerset fire service and have seen a lot of nasty things, but that was horrific.”

Police sources told the Mirror that the death toll could be as many as 12.
The Mirror reported that witnesses described how lorries ­exploded and cars were “burned ­literally to the ground” after they plowed into each other at Junction 25 on the motorway near Taunton, Somerset.

Witnesses heard “the cries of little ones” and screams from trapped motorists in the inferno, the Mirror reported. Motorist Tom Hamill, a 25-year-old teacher from Wells, Somerset, told reporters how he drove into a wall of fog, saying how “it was suddenly like driving in emulsion paint. People were trapped in their vehicles and they were screaming. I heard children crying,” Hamill said.

“The incident was very, very challenging and on arrival crews were faced with literally one massive fireball,” assistant chief constable Anthony Bangham, of Avon and Somerset Police, told the BBC. “Most vehicles were well alight and most continued to burn for a considerable time. This made it very difficult to search the vehicles. Some of them have been burned to the ground.”

The M5 crash is one of the worst in the history of British roads, according to the Guardian. Here are the previous worst road accidents:

May, 27, 1975: A 45-seater coach carrying pensioners plundged off a bridge in North Yorkshire, killing 33 people, in Britain’s worst-ever road accident.

November, 17, 1993: A crash on the M40 left 12 children and their teacher dead. A minibus transporting them home from a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London veered into the back of a maintenance truck.

October, 21, 1985: A coach collided with traffic at a standstill because of construction work on the M6, killing 13 people.

October, 28, 1987: A diesel tank truck collided with stationary traffic on the M61 motorway near Preston, Lancashire, killing 12 people and injuring six.

March 13, 1991: 10 people were killed and 25 injured in a 51-car pile-up on the M4 near Hungerford after a van skidded into the central barrier in heavy fog during the morning rush hour.

See video of the crash scene