Three Arrested in Connection With Atlanta Highway Fire

Three people have been arrested in connection to the fire that caused a section of an overpass to collapse in one of Atlanta's most heavily-trafficked freeways. The Fulton County Sheriff's Office says Basil Eleby faces a felony charge of criminal damage to property and is scheduled for his first court appearance Saturday, April 1, 2017. But prosecutors upgraded his charges to arson on Saturday after investigators said Eleby intentionally set the fire.

The fire broke out during rush hour Thursday night on a stretch of roadway north of Atlanta. "They could see concrete was flying all over the place toward firefighters".

With the interstate closed, Barnhart said his Friday morning commute was much more jammed than usual, taking him about 30 minutes rather than the normal 10 to 15.

No one was hurt when the span gave way on Thursday evening as a fire raged beneath it, sending thick black smoke into the air and briefly igniting a fireball before the structure fell in on itself, snarling traffic.

Gov. Nathan Deal said he heard speculation it was caused by some "PVC products that caught fire".

Crews work on a section of an overpass that collapsed from a large fire on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, Friday, March 31, 2017.

The flames ignited in an area where the state stores construction materials and supplies near the overpass, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said.

Officials scrambled to come up with alternate routes and encouraged commuters to use public transit.

But Eleby ultimately decided "he would consume the drugs by himself" and "left the area before the fire started", according to the affidavit.

Transportation officials stored plastic pipes used to protect fiber-optic cables beneath the bridge. The "funds are considered a down payment on the costs of short-term repairs now, which can make long-term fix work possible in the weeks ahead", the Georgia Department of Transportation said in a statement.

"He hasn't been charged with arson yet, but we do believe he's responsible for this fire", Sgt. Stafford said.

Judge James Altmon said he had considered setting a higher bond to match the damage inflicted, "but in this case, that would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars".

Authorities do not know how or why Eleby started the fire.

"It certainly can take anywhere from several weeks to several months", he said.

MARTA, Atlanta's rail and bus system, will offer extended service through the weekend taking some of the burden off residents.

That prospect sent shudders through metro Atlanta commuters, who already contend with heavy traffic. Intense heat can compromise even steel-reinforced concrete, said Lauren Stewart, director of the Structural Engineering and Materials Laboratory at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Miraculously, there were no injuries, but both sides of road will have to be repaired before it can be re-opened.

  • Larry Hoffman