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Bridge fire, collapse shuts main highway from L.A. to Las Vegas

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The main highway between Southern California and Las Vegas remained shut on Tuesday, backing up traffic for miles a day after a bridge fire and collapse forced officials to close the busy interstate in both directions.

The overpass, which had been under construction over Interstate-15 near the high desert community of Hesperia, some 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles, caught fire during construction on Monday, said Officer Matt Hunt of the California Highway Patrol.

The fire and subsequent collapse of the bridge forced officials to close the interstate in both directions, cutting off the main artery between Southern California and Las Vegas, as well as other destinations in Nevada and Utah.

Hunt said there were no injuries reported in the incident but both sides of Interstate 15 remained closed as of noon local time on Tuesday as crews worked to clear debris. Authorities hoped to reopen northbound lanes later in the afternoon.

In the meantime, cars and trucks were being diverted around the closed section of highway using on- and off-ramps, he said, but traffic remained backed up for miles in both directions.

Los Angeles TV stations showed long lines of cars and interviewed frustrated drivers, although others took the situation in stride.

"Look where you're at, you're in Southern California. If you live in L.A., you're in traffic 24 hours a day anyway," driver Mike Ingram told local KABC-TV.

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, more than one in four people who visit Las Vegas come from Southern California, with an average of 42,000 cars crossing the California-Nevada border on the I-15 each day.

There are few alternatives for drivers traveling across the California desert between the two destinations.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and James Dalgleish)

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