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A fatal 14-vehicle pileup on the Hwy. 400 is seen near Barrie, Ont., on Oct. 31, 2017.

Sergeant Kerry Schmidt/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A veteran truck driver and father of nine who worked tirelessly to support his family in northeastern Ontario was one of three people killed in a pileup that set off a massive fireball on a highway north of Toronto, his grieving wife said Thursday.

Nikiyah Mulak-Dunn said she first feared the worst for her husband Benjamin Dunn after a friend pointed out images in the media of what appeared to be his truck engulfed in flames.

Provincial police later confirmed the grim news, plunging the family into despair and uncertainty, she said. Grief counsellors have been at the family's North Bay, Ont., home to help Mulak-Dunn talk to her children, who are between one and 16 years old, about the loss of their father, she said.

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"It's just been devastating," she said. "I don't know where we're at right now, we're just trying to process and we're all in shock and disbelief and just pretty traumatized, I'd say, so it's going to have to be day by day."

She said her husband — who was the family's sole breadwinner — had been working as a trucker for at least a decade and drove that same route regularly. He also juggled two other jobs as a miner and a welder, she said.

"He was just a devoted and hardworking husband and father and he would just do anything for anyone if they asked and even if they didn't ask, he was a very caring, intuitive person. He loved people and cared about them a lot."

Friends have rallied behind the grieving family, organizing meal trains and offering to plow their driveway all winter, Mulak-Dunn said. Others have launched online fundraising campaigns.

Police have not publicly identified those killed Tuesday night in the multi-vehicle crash on Highway 400 that set off a massive fireball and sent motorists running for their lives.

That stretch of highway south of Barrie, Ont., was closed for more than 24 hours after the crash, which police have said involved at least four transport trucks and two fuel tankers that spilled thousands of litres of fuel on the road.

Police said the impact sent a wave of fuel and flames rushing down the highway, leaving behind charred, twisted metal and debris. One lane of the northbound highway will be closed again sometime Thursday for an environmental cleanup, they said.

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The cause of the crash remains under investigation but police suggested the blame may lie with the driver of a transport truck they say crashed into slowing traffic.

Just days earlier, provincial police had sounded the alarm about fatal collisions caused by distracted truck drivers.

The force said last week that since Jan. 1, its officers have tracked more than 5,000 transport truck-related collisions that have left 67 people dead.

The Ontario Trucking Association has said the industry is committed to road safety, noting that there has been a 66 per cent decrease in the fatality rate from large truck collisions between 1995 and 2014 despite a 75 per cent rise in large truck vehicle registrations.

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