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SERVICES 
Friday, 12 April, 2002, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
Traffic chaos after motorway fire
Fire-fighters by the M3
Fire-fighters dampen down trees next to the motorway
The weekend started badly for 60,000 motorists as the M3 motorway was closed by a fire for five hours, with effects lasting well into Friday's rush hour.

Thick black smoke from the blaze, on Chobham Common, south of London, forced police to stop traffic because of fears the driving conditions were too dangerous.

The closure stranded 25,000 drivers in a 25-mile queue on the M3, and a further 35,000 were stuck when the M25 ground to a halt.

A total of 85 fire-fighters and 21 fire engines, from Surrey, London, Hampshire and Berkshire, fought to bring the fire under control.

The blaze, between junctions two and three of the M3, was first reported at 1250 BST.

The southbound carriageway finally opened at 1730 BST and the northbound, into London, shortly after that.

'Horrendous'

Fire-fighters are expected to continue dampening-down the area through the night.

Martin Riddle of the Surrey Fire Service said about 15 hectares of common land were ablaze, but it is unclear how the fire started.

A spokesman for Surrey police said: "The smoke was making driving very hazardous. "

Speaking from the scene, Rebecca Rees, from the AA, described the situation as "horrendous".

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