Fire destroys Atlanta’s Interstate 85 Bridge

  • Major highway shutdown initiated;
  • The northbound span, which fell, and the southbound span must be rebuilt;
  • The fire started at a state construction-equipment storage area, officials said;
  • No reported deaths and none was injured;

Fire destroys Atlanta’s Interstate 85 Bridge

Hell was let loose Friday after a segment of Atlanta’s Interstate 85 bridge collapsed over a mysterious fire erupted shutting down one major Southeast’s top north-south arteries.

The fire injured none with no reported deaths, but the gridlock caused tension amongst drivers who scampered for alternative routes as both the southbound segment of the I-85 northbound overpass was utterly damaged forcing the shutdown of all five lanes in each direction.

Fire destroys Atlanta’s Interstate 85 Bridge
Flames from a massive fire that eventually led a portion of the highway to collapse are seen along Interstate 85 in Atlanta.

The shutdown will evidently get traffic personnel workround the clock for weeks with as traffic jams extended almost five miles or more leaving stranded drivers waiting in the immediate area for hours.

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Unfortunately the shutdown comes at a time were the city usually witness gridlock as many spring break vacationers are set to drive through the regional hub and the Atlanta Braves are schedule to play a preseason game Friday night in their stadium in the city’s northwest area.

“I think it’s as serious a transportation crisis as we could have,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Thursday evening.

‘Collapsed with a big kaboom’

The mysterious fire started Thursday evening under an I-85 overpass in north-central Atlanta, north of the highway’s split with I-75 it was seen.

The state Department of Transportation chief, Russell McMurry, said the flames erupted in an area where the state stores construction materials and supplies near the overpass was situated.

Initially, I-85 car owners drove through the smoke as firefighters battles the flames below; but the fire eventually evolved into a huge fireball.

Flames from a massive fire that eventually led a portion of the highway to collapse are seen Thursday along Interstate 85 in Atlanta.

“There was a 40-feet or higher wall of fire. Power lines were falling and arcing heavily and falling in the streets,” Cortez Stafford, a spokesman for the Atlanta Fire Department, told CNN.

The upper region of the highway collapsed at about 7 p.m. ET, as firefighters battled the fires escaped the massive fall.

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When concrete started falling from under the bridge, the crew were asked to withdraw from the area, Stafford confirmed. “Not even two minutes later, the highway fell with a big ‘kaboom.’ (It) knocked our guys back.”

Although the highway gets clogged with cars at about that time period, there were no casualties, Reed said.

Fire destroys Atlanta’s Interstate 85 Bridge
PVC pipes are generally “stable,” McMurry said Friday. A trade group, the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association, says PVC pipes are combustible, but the material generally doesn’t keep burning when a flame source is removed.

Reports have it that over 220,000 cars per day usually ply that stretch of the interstate that collapsed. Authorities battled-up alternate routes and encouraged riders to opt for public transit.

“This is the time to start planning and looking for an alternate route on how you do your business,” McMurry said Thursday evening.

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‘Bizarre scenes’

Eyewitnesses have taken to the social media to post bizarre images of drivers just before the massive collapse, as they courageously drove through the gloomy black smoke that billowed onto the highway even as the fire was burning beneath.

Fire destroys Atlanta’s Interstate 85 Bridge
Crews work Friday on a section of an Interstate 85 overpass that collapsed during a masive fire.

Cars were seen on the left part of the five-lane section drive through the gloomy black smoke disappearing into the fires darkness. Minutes later the interstate traffic was stopped and turned around creating long traffic jams.

What caused the fire?

The fire started at the state’s construction-equipment storage area near the I-85 bridge but what really ignited the fire was not instantly known, McMurry, the state transportation head noted.

Gov. Nathan Deal said Thursday that he had heard speculation it was caused by some “PVC products that caught fire.”

PVC pipes are generally “stable,” McMurry said Friday. A trade group, the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association, says PVC pipes are combustible, but the material generally doesn’t keep burning when a flame source is removed.

“We’re as eager to learn the cause of this fire as anyone,” McMurry said.

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Crews from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, south Atlanta, mobilized two fire trucks tow the scene and sprayed foam on the flames and the fallen section of the highway.

There are no evidence from investigators that the fire is linked to terrorism even as investigation is underway, Atlanta’s mayor noted.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken samples of the air and water in the nearby creek, but results will be available in about two weeks, said Larry Lincoln, the EPA spokesman.

‘It’s going to take some time’

Even as crews have been deployed to clear the remains of the collapsed bridge Friday, officials announced that the northbound bridge will not be the only section to be replaced. Hence, the southbound span also was damaged needs to be rebuilt, and opposite segment in both directions will also be checked, McMurry noted.

“It’s going to take some time to get it repaired and to get it back in service,” Deal said, without offering a time frame for reopening.

Fire destroys Atlanta interstate bridge
Here’s the traffic in Atlanta at about 8:15 a.m. ET on Friday, the morning after the collapse. I-85 traffic was unusually light as drivers were forced onto other routes.

Weeks of repair ahead

Reginald DesRoches, said most structural materials lose strength when exposed to high temperature which means the concrete could have been affected by the heat, the professor at Georgia Tech. noted.

It is too early to say how long it will take to repair the highway, he said.

“It certainly can take anywhere from several weeks to several months,” he said. “The surrounding sections of the highway will be evaluated to determine if any damage was sustained from the heat. It is probably prudent to check both sides of the adjacent sections (northbound and south bound).”

Fire destroys Atlanta’s Interstate 85 Bridge
Crews work Friday on a section of an Interstate 85 overpass that collapsed during a masive fire.

‘This won’t go as usual’

Atlanta’s rail and bus system, MARTA, will be offering long service over the weekend to support affected motorist and others.

Meanwhile, a school district close to DeKalb County, called-off classes for Friday. But schools in Atlanta will be on session, said Reed, but city and state offices will not be open not until 10 a.m. meantime.

 

 

Credits: CNN, stingged.com

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