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Fiery pileup closes I-94 in snowy conditions near Monticello

Flames and thick black smoke are coming from the crash scene.
The crash scene around 9:30 a.m.

The crash scene around 9:30 a.m.

A fiery crash on Interstate 94 in Monticello has backed up traffic on the snowy interstate Thursday morning. 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's website says the crash happened between Wright County Road 19 and County Road 18 that blocked the westbound lanes of the interstate. 

The crash site at 10:32 a.m.

The crash site at 10:32 a.m.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol's report, the "large crash" happened at 9:10 a.m. on westbound I-94 at Flenning Avenue Northeast. State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow says I-94 westbound at exit 201 in Albertville is closed due to "several crashes" on I-94 near Monticello. 

The eastbound lanes of I-94 at Highway 25 were then closed at 11:23 a..m. while state troopers, first responders and tow trucks "tend to the several vehicles on the freeway," Grabow tweeted

MnDOT traffic cameras show several vehicles, including semi-trucks, near the crash site, including a semi-truck that is on fire and producing a large amount of black smoke. 

The crash scene at 10:30 a.m.

The crash scene at 10:30 a.m.

Grabow says the driver of that truck is OK. The State Patrol says other injuries of those involved in the pileup have not yet been determined. 

Traffic cameras showed several emergency vehicles at the scene. 

The crash scene at 10:27 a.m.

The crash scene at 10:27 a.m.

At the time of the crash, I-94 was covered in snow and ice, Grabow said. 

Early Wednesday, The National Weather Service said a narrow band of snow would move across the area in the morning, dropping 1-2 inches of snow. 

Shortly after the crash, the National Weather Service issued a snow squall warning for east-central Wright County and north-central Hennepin County until 10:30 a.m., noting the impact could include "dangerous life-threatening travel."

The weather service warned that "a dangerous snow squall was located over Albertville, or 10 miles northeast of Buffalo, moving southeast at 15 mph," and it was creating "extremely poor visibility" on I-94.

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According to the National Weather Service, snow squalls move in and out quickly, typically lasting less than an hour, and may only produce minor amounts of snow accumulations.

Squalls produce sudden white-out conditions, which combined with falling temperatures produce icy roads  "in just a few minutes," and can happen when there's no winter storm in progress. 

The weather service adds: 

"Snow squalls can cause localized extreme impacts to the traveling public and to commerce for brief periods of time. Unfortunately, there is a long history of deadly traffic accidents associated with snow squalls. Although snow accumulations are typically an inch or less, the added combination of gusty winds, falling temperatures and quick reductions in visibility can cause extremely dangerous conditions for motorists."

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