Three motorcyclists killed in fiery chain-reaction crash on I-5 near Camp Pendleton

FILE - The entrance to Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton is seen on Sept. 22, 2015, in Oceanside, Calif. A Camp Pendleton Marine was detained for questioning after military police found a 14-year-old girl on base June 28, 2023. The girl's grandmother in San Diego reported her missing June 13. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
A deadly multivehicle crash was reported shortly after 3 a.m. Thursday on the southbound side of the 5 Freeway near Camp Pendleton. Traffic remained at a standstill for hours. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Three people were killed Thursday morning in a fiery chain-reaction vehicle crash on the 5 Freeway near Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

The crash was reported shortly after 3 a.m. on the southbound side of the freeway near Las Pulgas Road, north of Oceanside, according to the California Highway Patrol's online incident log. A Jeep Wrangler veered off the highway for unknown reasons, struck a guardrail and became disabled, according to CHP Officer Hunter Gerber.

Previous news reports identified the Jeep as a military vehicle, but Gerber said it was not affiliated with the military.

While the vehicle was disabled, a Mercedes-Benz van crashed and overturned. Four motorcyclists crashed into the van and a fire began, Gerber said.

Three of the motorcyclists died at the scene, Gerber said.

The driver and passenger of the Jeep Wrangler were taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, and the driver and passenger of the van were hospitalized with moderate injuries. A motorcyclist was transported to a hospital with major non-life-threatening injuries, Gerber said.

A SigAlert was issued around 4 a.m. and traffic remained completely stopped at 10 a.m. Two of the four lanes were reopened by late morning.

The crash remains under investigation, Gerber said.

Traffic began backing up at 6:30 a.m. just past the Orange County line, according to a Times reporter caught in the traffic. Emergency vehicles, including CHP cruisers and Camp Pendleton’s Fire Department, sped down the southbound median lane to get through traffic. After several hours stalled in traffic, some drivers made illegal U-turns on the freeway and crossed over the median to get onto the northbound side of the freeway. Others remained in their vehicles with their doors cracked open as the heat rose in the morning gridlock.

At one point, a woman got out of her GMC Yukon and handed out chips to people stuck in traffic, drawing weary thank-yous from drivers and passengers.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.