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Holly Waggoner thought she had made it through the worst of the fire just before a black cloud swept up the hill in front of her.
Flames closed in on the road. The truck in front of her caught fire.
Fighting back tears, she got out her cell phone and called her mother - not for help, but to say goodbye.
"I told my mom, 'This is it. I'm going to die by fire,' " Waggoner said Saturday evening, just hours after she and her 18-wheeler full of Huggies diapers escaped the Milford Flat blaze. She estimated she was one of about 100 motorists who drove into the fire that threatened I-15 before crews closed the road Saturday afternoon at Scipio.
Waggoner said she was near Cove Fort on her way to Las Vegas when the traffic around her began to stop.
"Rescue workers were nowhere around," she said.
But her mother had placed a call to state troopers, who called her cell phone and told her to turn around and head north as quickly as possible - a measure drivers around her already were taking as smoke blotted out their view of the road to the south.
"I'd never seen people work like that together," said Waggoner, 46, of Huntington Beach, Calif. "You could see it in their eyes - they thought this was it."
When she stopped at a hotel near Nephi, she found one of her mud flaps had burned off and a tire was singed.
"I'm lucky to be alive," she said. "A guy in front of me went into shock and wouldn't move his truck. I just laid on the horn, and finally he moved."
Waggoner said she and other evacuated motorists wanted to know why authorities left the highway open so late.
"I can't even imagine them letting anyone up there," she said.
Highway patrol officers closed the interstate as soon as they could, between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., said Utah Department of Public Safety Lt. Steve Winward.
"It does take a bit of time to get a closure in place," he said. "The fire just moved so fast, there were some vehicles that got stuck in there. . . . The fire went right over the highway. . . . I didn't think [officers] were expecting that; they've been monitoring it all day."
Meanwhile, Winward said, evacuation efforts were complicated when a truck plowed into two motorcycles in part of the closed section of I-15, killing two people.
"The troopers were dealing with that fatal accident, so they were really strapped with what they had," Winward said.
Waggoner said she saw the two victims lying on the side of the road as she was trying to escape.