An out-of-control tractor-trailer truck barreled down a steep hill, rammed a packed station wagon and set off a fire that destroyed three downtown stores, police said. Nine persons died in the accident.

The truck apparently lost its brakes Friday night before hitting the station wagon, killing its seven occupants, and pushing the vehicle into a store before exploding. The truck driver and his wife also died in the wreck, police said. It took eight hours to extinguish the fire, police Sgt. Tom Bruce said.

"That hill is more than a 45-degree grade; it's almost straight down," police dispatcher Jon Hill said. "By the time you get halfway down, you have no brakes."

The truck, hauling meat, bounced across railroad tracks at the bottom of Log Town Hill on Arkansas 59 about 8 p.m., then sped across an intersection and into the station wagon and the stores.

"One witness said the truck was going 70 miles an hour by the time it hit the railroad tracks. Then it went airborne," Hill said.

The wreckage exploded, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air.

"We're still going on the theory that the truck was off the truck route, loaded down, and its brakes went out," Bruce said.