"We had to creep by because, you know, it was just so much smoke and to keep us from getting in a wreck, and we were on eastbound and that was in westbound," Strickland said.
A Georgia Department of Transportation crew was on the way to place caution signs warning of low visibility on the interstate when the crash happened, DOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg said. A 911 operator had called the DOT to say motorists were calling to complain of poor visibility, Goldberg said, though she didn't know if it was fog or smoke that prompted the calls.
The DOT crew in Dublin, roughly 10 miles from the crash scene, was called within a minute of the 911 operator's call and had loaded the caution signs into a truck and was en route when the Laurens County sheriff called the agency to report the crash, Goldberg said.
"There was less than 30 minutes between the time we got the 911 operator's call to when the sheriff said there was a crash," Goldberg said.
Laurens County EMS director Terry Cobb, who was among the first emergency officials at the scene, said at least six vehicles were still on fire when crews arrived. Emergency officials encountered fog on the way to the crash site, though it seemed to lift one they arrived, Cobb said.
Authorities said nine people injured in the crash were taken to Fairview Park Hospital in nearby Dublin. Jeff Bruton, a hospital administrator, said all were treated and released except for one patient who was transferred to a hospital in Macon.
The dead were identified as: Michael Jarome Smith of Covington; Jeff Moore of Effingham County; and Clayton and Josephine Warnock of Dublin.
The area was under a dense fog advisory at the time of the pileup, said Laura Belanger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. In some areas, visibility was only a quarter-mile or less, Belanger said.
Associated Press writers Jeff Martin and Phillip Lucas in Atlanta contributed to this story.