The flames melted the asphalt and guardrails on I-77, and state transportation officials expected the highway to be closed until at least Wednesday afternoon. That meant serious headaches for some drivers, including those who had to detour onto Interstate 79 North because they weren't allowed on I-77.
Many travelers who had an unexpected change in plans pulled off the nearest I-79 exit -- Mink Shoals -- and pulled out their cellphones and maps. Several ended up at Harding's restaurant, just off the exit, to ask for directions and get their bearings.
Linda Blowe of Columbus, Ohio, sat inside Harding's as she studied her large atlas, searching for a new route home.
"I'm doing it the old-fashioned way. I have no GPS," Blowe said, as she discovered two alternate routes home.
Cleveland resident Pauline Baraw had also planned to take I-77 the whole way home. She stopped at the Sleep Inn next to Harding's around 4:15 p.m. Tuesday to look at her map, and hotel workers helped her find a different route north.
"If you don't have a GPS, then you definitely are going to be lost," Baraw said, "so I'm trying to rely on my old atlas."
Tom Frost, an employee at the Sleep Inn, said a couple of West Virginians already had checked into the hotel because they didn't think they would be able to get back home Tuesday night.
Frost said one woman was concerned that she didn't have spare clothes or a toothbrush but she was "handling it really well," he said.
John Harrison was worried about getting home, too. He lives a few miles from Sissonville High School, and he saw some TV coverage of the explosion while he was bowling in Spring Hill.
"The sheriff told me we could get back on 77 in two hours or two days," said Harrison, who met his wife at Harding's. "I sure hope it's not two days."
Staff writers Megan Workman and Travis Crum contributed to this report.
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.