Governor declares state of emergency in Fulton

Many commuters in some of Atlanta's densely populated northern suburbs will have to find alternate routes or ride public transit for the foreseeable future after a massive fire caused a bridge on Interstate 85 to collapse, completely shutting down the heavily travelled highway.

No injuries to motorists or emergency workers were reported, but Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal went ahead and declared a state of emergency as local fire officials continued their clean-up and assessment of the damage.

Investigators are still trying to understand the cause of a fire on a bridge along Interstate 85 in Atlanta, Georgia, that is keeping a portion of the major north-south route closed.

A Thursday, March 30 fire underneath the interstate caused a section of it to collapse.

That left drivers in one of the nation's most congested cities faced a jarring new reality as they were forced to game out how to get around while a section of I-85, one of the Southeast's major north-south arteries, was blocked.

"We will have to continue to evaluate the situation and adjust as we do", Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said.

The blaze broke out Thursday afternoon in an area used to store construction materials, equipment and supplies, sending flames and smoke high into the air. No one was hurt, engineers are inspecting the freeway right now to see how much of it has been compromised.

"It certainly can take anywhere from several weeks to several months", he said. They disappeared into the darkness as they drove, he said.

He says that shortly after the collapse, Governor Deal told him and other lawmakers that it could take about a year for the repairs to be completed.

Cochran thanked state troopers with saving lives by stopping all of the traffic in the 40 minutes before the bridge collapsed.

"The state is mobilizing all available resources to ensure public safety and minimize disruption of traffic as we continue emergency response efforts", said Deal. Authorities were still working to determine how the fire started.

According to NBC News, the months it could take to fix the bridge could be a major traffic headache. Heat from the flames exceeded 2,750 degrees and caused the steel beams holding up the overpass to buckle and bolts holding the structure together to melt, officials said at the time. Fire damaged two bridges above the truck and highway crews made the decision to demolish both out of fear they would collapse.

Tunnels are required to protect drivers if a fire burns and driver can not easily escape, Federal Highway Administration spokesman Dug Hecox said.

Cortez Stafford, a spokesman with the Atlanta Fire Department, said a unit was returning from another fire when it saw heavy smoke coming from under I-85.

GDOT and DPS officials will hold a news conference at 12:30 p.m. today near the collapse site to provide additional updates.

He said MARTA asked them to come help out at a couple mornings this week.

MARTA, Atlanta's rail and bus system, will offer extended service through the weekend taking some of the burden off residents. All thru traffic should take I-285 around the city.

  • Larry Hoffman