Travellers looking to get away before the Easter Bank Holiday break were facing significant disruption today after a fire caused the closure of part of the M1 and delays to rail services.
The motorway, which is closed in both directions in north London, may not reopen until midday tomorrow which is likely to cause problems for football fans heading to the FA Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Manchester City.
The road was closed from junctions one to four as around 40 firefighters tackled a blaze in a scrapyard, which broke out shortly before 4.11am at a site close to Scratchwood Services and Ellesmere Avenue in Mill Hill, north London.
Traffic volumes are likely to be higher than usual this weekend because of Easter travellers, football fans travelling to Wembley for the semi-final tomorrow afternoon and the London Marathon on Sunday.
The Highways Agency said it was assessing the M1 viaduct structure near the site to see if there was any severe damage, and diversion routes were put in place.
A spokesman said: "We are working as fast as we can to reopen the road as soon as it is safe to do so."
Rolling traffic information on the Highways Agency's website warned the M1 southbound at the London Gateway services slip road between J4 and J2 was closed and expected to reopen from 12pm on April 16. It gave the same time estimate for the M1 northbound between J1 and J2.
A number of gas cylinders were involved in the blaze and a hazard zone was set up in case they exploded in the heat, London Fire Brigade said.
About 50 people living in properties near the scrapyard were temporarily evacuated as a precaution while the cylinders, some of which were acetylene, were cooled and made safe. Train lines close to the area were also shut.
An East Midlands Trains spokeswoman said that half of the tracks on the Midland mainline between St Pancras and Bedford were closed due to the fire, causing cancellations and delays on London services. The tracks were shut at around 5.20am and reopened at 7.20am.
Six crews remained at the scene this afternoon to put out any remaining pockets of fire.
There were no reports of any injuries, the London Fire Brigade said.
A Highways Agency spokeswoman said its engineers had been given access to the site of the fire underneath the motorway and would be assessing the extent of the damage.
She said: "Depending on the results of the investigation, we will open the M1 as far as it is safe to do so.
"In the meantime, intended users of the M1 are advised to consider alternative routes or means of travel to their destinations.
"A signed diversion route is also in place, using black diamond signs northbound and black circle signs southbound, but drivers heading into and out of London should consider alternative routes and expect significant delays in this area."