LANE closures on the M40 have been lifted ahead of schedule following a major lorry fire.

Highways England had predicted that the southbound stretch of road, between  Junction 9 (Bicester) and 8A (Wheatley), might not fully reopen until 2am tomorrow.

However, it tweeted at 8pm announcing that the burnt-out HGV has been recovered and both lanes that were closed have reopened.

The UK Mail lorry caught fire at about 12.30am this morning, and 16 firefighters helped to hose it down.

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One southbound lane had been closed all day but at 3.30pm Highways England closed another, to allow for complex recovery work.

Traffic was severe during rush hour as a result, with a two-mile tailback between Boarstall and Murcott.

Earlier this evening Highways England tweeted this image of the lorry being crane-lifted from the hard shoulder.

Bicester Advertiser:

Pic: Highways England/ @HighwaysEAST

More dramatic images from the scene show huge plumes of smoke billowing from the vehicle early this morning, as six Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service crews worked to get the flames under control.

Bicester Advertiser:

All pics by Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

UK Mail has launched an investigation into the fire and said it is 'cooperating fully with police.'

Bicester Advertiser:

The fire service has confirmed the cause of the blaze is believed to be accidental.

It said the driver of the articulated lorry had managed to pull over on the hard shoulder and remove the tractor unit (the front part of the lorry).

But the fire was already 'well-established and deep seated,' the fire service said, and crews had to cut away the sides of the lorry to access the fire.

Initially the motorway was fully closed, but Highways England traffic officers were able to restart movement after about 90 minutes, and gradually increase the number of lanes available.

During rush hour this morning there were 13 mile tailbacks due to the lane closure. 

Also in the news: A40 Oxford turning to be closed on safety grounds

Bicester Advertiser:

Traffic on the M40 this morning. Pic: Google Maps

Fire crews said that due to the dense nature of the loading of the lorry the fire quickly took hold, and they worked for more than five hours to extinguish the flames.

Bicester Advertiser:

An image of the burnt remains of the lorry's interior appeared to show parcels including at least two from the online fashion brand ASOS.

Bicester Advertiser:

Crew manager Rob Pratley of Bicester Fire Station said: "Crews worked hard throughout the night, to tackle and extinguish the fire – due to the deep seated nature of it, it took some considerable time and water to extinguish, which is always more difficult in remote locations.

"The hard work put in by all agencies enabled us to have the motorway as near to fully open as possible in time for the rush hour."

No one was injured in the incident.

A UK Mail spokesperson said: "We can confirm that one of our vehicles travelling to Greenford caught fire on the M40 southbound, near Oxford.

"The driver was unhurt and we are cooperating fully with the police in their investigation of the incident.

"We will also be conducting our own internal investigation.

"While this is under way we are unable to comment further, other than to confirm that the safety of our drivers and the public is of the utmost importance to the company."