SALT LAKE CITY -- Hundreds of drivers ended up stranded on Friday afternoon, after a 5-alarm fire at an auto recycling plant spread to a nearby field.
Salt Lake City Fire Department personnel said the blaze tore through 50 to 60 acres of grass between 700 South and I-80 North, and between Bangerter Highway and Wright Brothers Drive.
Utah Highway Patrol quickly shut down all lanes of traffic on I-80 between I-215 and 5600 West.
Sergeant Todd Royce said they needed to give firefighters space, “to start to fight the fire and do it effectively.”
He also said they wanted to prevent drivers from crashing in the thick smoke that, at times, blanketed the interstate due to the gusty winds. Plus, there were worries about where the fire would spread to.
“There was some concerns about the fire jumping the freeway,” Sgt. Royce said.
The I-80 closure caused a backup that left traffic gridlocked for more than two hours, while firefighters fought flames along the interstate.
Hundreds of cars sat stalled and stranded on I-215, down 5600 West and in the area between Wright Brothers Drive and 5600 West.
“We're stuck here,” one passenger said with a chuckle. “Endless loop,” echoed the driver, who was headed from Tooele to Sandy.
They had nowhere to go and no way to get there for a solid two hours. All plans and appointments went out the window.
“I needed to go camping at four, so, I guess I’m not going to go this weekend,” said Taylor Hall, who works nearby.
One driver, Nick Summerhays, said his car eventually ran out of gas.
“Two and a half mile walk, get some gas and then go fill it up and wait some more,” he said.
On the way back from the gas station, he said he passed a woman who told him she was in the same boat.
Eventually, fire crews got control of the grass fire enough to re-open I-80.
Smoke still rose from the blackened field, which smoldered while traffic slowly returned to normal.
Salt Lake City Fire said firefighters will continue to mop up hot spots and keep an eye on the grass fire through the night, though they said they don’t expect any more flare ups or impacts on traffic.