MOTORISTS faced rush-hour misery yesterday after an articulated lorry caught fire, halting traffic on a section of the region's busiest road.

The disruption to the A1(M) took emergency services nearly nine hours to control as the burning truck, a two-car collision and roadworks created what police said was "a recipe for disaster".

Long tailbacks stretched along a section of the motorway in County Durham, causing long delays for thousands of drivers.

The drama began at about 4.30am when firefighters were called to a report of the 45ft trailer of a lorry being well alight on the southbound carriageway, between Darlington and Newton Aycliffe.

About 20 tons of flat-pack cartons had caught fire, stopping traffic on the southbound side and sending clouds of thick smoke drifting across the northbound carriageway.

The southern side was fully closed by police at about 6am, just as large volumes of traffic were starting to build up.

Drivers were diverted through the Newton Aycliffe industrial estate but, at the height of the problems, there were queues seven miles long on the road.

Police said a later crash involving two cars, also on the southbound carriageway, and roadworks to the south of the crash site exacerbated the situation.

The drivers of the two vehicles only suffered minor injuries, but dealing with the aftermath added to the chaos for emergency workers.

A police spokesman said: "The lorry in flames, the two-car accident and the roadworks were a recipe for disaster, frankly, and there was much frustration for everyone involved.

"The problem was that the lorry's load kept re-igniting and it meant that the fire brigade were faced with a long and slow operation."

The road re-opened at 1.05pm.

Last night, police said the lorry had been travelling from South Hetton to a Safeway depot in Cardiff.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue service said three fire appliances attended.

A spokesman said the trailer was destroyed. The fire was extinguished by 8.10am, but the clear-up operation took several more hours.