Atlanta begins 1st full workweek since major bridge collapse

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 Thursday, completely shutting down the heavily traveled highway. Wearing a navy jumpsuit, flip-flops and handcuffs, Eleby reluctantly shuffled into a courtroom at the Fulton County jail for his first appearance hearing Saturday morning.

The homeless man accused of starting a fire that caused a section of a major Atlanta interstate to collapse was smoking crack before the blaze erupted, his arrest warrant shows.

Basil Eleby is charged with first-degree arson and criminal damage to property, authorities said. Allen said they believe Eleby, Bruner and Thomas were the only suspects involved. His bond has been set at $200,000.

Eleby, 39, has a lengthy arrest record, according to the Journal-Constitution - 19 arrests since 1995, mostly for drug offenses.

Local people who have interacted with Eleby say they can't believe that he's behind the fire that eventually collapsed portions of the I-85 freeway.

Experts in structural engineering said fires on highways and bridges rarely burn long enough or hot enough to cause a complete collapse - but it has happened.

Friday's commute the day after the fire saw major delays as commuters swamped Atlanta's mass-transit system and other highways. He identified them as Basil Eleby, Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas.

The impact on traffic long-term was not immediately known, but traffic was bumper to bumper on nearby surface streets Thursday night as people scrambled to find alternate routes.

Reports suggest the fire began in an area used to store construction material.

Around 7 p.m., "the highway fell with a big 'kaboom.' (It) knocked our guys back", said Sgt. Cortez Stafford, a spokesman for the Atlanta Fire Department.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the fire burned for more than an hour under I-85 northbound near Piedmont Road, spewing large clouds of black smoke skyward.

An exact timeline for the interstate to be completely restored is unclear, but the work is expected to take months. The Georgia Department of Transportation issued a detour map on Sunday that shows I-85 closed in both directions from I-75 to Georgia 400, both critical arteries in the city's transportation infrastructure.

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

Department of Transportation. In the aftermath, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the area, encouraged residents to avoid it and/or telecommute and has secured $10 million from the federal government to help pay for repairs. Local officials confirmed that $10 million in federal funds have been released to help pay for the fix and reconstruction of I-85 damaged by the collapse.

  • Leroy Wright