HUGE plumes of black smoke towered over south Essex as fire engulfed an oil tanker at a major junction.

Emergency services descended on Sadlers Farm, Benfleet, at roughly 5pm yesterday with images showing a fuel tanker covered in flames.

Giant plumes of thick black smoke rose into the air and could be seen as far away as Southend Pier as the blaze took hold.

Aerial images showed the huge amounts of smoke rising above south Essex while huge queues of traffic formed.

Witnesses described the sight.

Helen Davis, who was stuck in traffic at Sadlers Farm, said: “I was stuck in the traffic along the roundabout and the tanker was completely on fire.

Echo: Scene - The fire - Pic: Harry Dowall Scene - The fire - Pic: Harry Dowall

“I didn’t see it catch fire, but it was completely alight.

“There were, from what I could see, five fire engines at the location and police were turning around traffic.”

Courtney Christina Andre, who took an image from the pier, said: “It was an absolutely horrendous sight from Southend Pier. I hope no one is hurt, it looks very aggressive, and the smoke seems never-ending.”

Essex Fire Service warned motorists to avoid the area if possible and said traffic was expected to be affected for “some time.”

Drivers faced long delays as traffic built and was affected across south Essex.

Rodney Rudd, who lives in Benfleet, said: “I was looking out my bedroom window and there was an explosion, and 30-40 ft of flames and smoke which I could see.

“We heard a large, large explosion, a massive bang, it sounded like it was a bomb, and then a few seconds later, again - bang, bang, bang.

“It was a good hour and a half of thick black smoke and flames.

“I heard the tanker had just filled up in Canvey, so it was a full tank, as he was just on his way out of Canvey.”

Motorists faced long delays on the A127, A130, at the Fairglen Junction, A13 and across Castle Point including Canvey.

In a statement on Facebook yesterday evening, a spokesman said: “We’re on the scene of a vehicle fire involving a fuel tanker on Canvey Way and Saddlers Farm.

“The road is closed as a precaution while our crews work to extinguish the fire. We anticipate traffic will be affected for some time,