Three people are facing charges in relation to a fire that led to the collapse Thursday evening (March 30) of a section of a busy interstate in Atlanta.
An overpass portion of I-85 in the city, near the Armour and Piedmont Heights neighborhoods, caught fire around 6:30 p.m. Thursday in a blaze that reportedly started underneath the structure. Early speculation was that PVC or other materials stored under the bridge caught fire, and the flames quickly grew intense. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Basil Eleby is being charged with setting the fire, allegedly sparking it by setting a chair on fire in a shopping cart.
Sophia Brauer and Barry Thomas face charges of tresspassing for allegedly having been with Eleby under the underpass when the blaze began. Thomas reportedly told investigartors that it was Eleby who intentionally set the fire; Eleby has reportedly said that he went under the underpass to smoke crack cocaine with Brauer and Thomas but eventually left without having done so.
Around 7 p.m. a section of the overpass near Piedmont Road collapsed entirely in the flames. No one was reported to be injured. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency, and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority added extra trains to accommodate commuters who might opt out of driving to work in the ensuing traffic.
Officials have said that I-85 in the area between U.S. Route 400 and Midtown will be closed, both northbound and southbound, indefinitely.
Both Bridges Damaged
The stretch of I-85 that collapsed, reportedly about 100 feet long, is the northbound section of the Northeast Expressway, and runs between the Buford Spring Connector (Route 13) and another viaduct carrying southbound lanes of I-85. According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, bridge inspectors sent to the site determined that the southbound viaduct had also sustained structural damage.
A photo posted to Twitter by WSB-TV appears to show the fire in its early stages, in a storage area where coils of piping or hose are located.
“The area in which the fire originated is part of the state’s right of way that was utilized as a storage location for construction materials, equipment and supplies” Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell R. McMurry said in a statement. “The site was a secured area containing materials such as PVC piping, which is a stable, non-combustible material.”
Eleby, Brauer and Thomas were arrested Saturday (April 1) in connection with the crime.
The stretch of viaduct that collapsed was constructed of concrete, with concrete piers. I-85 in Atlanta was originally constructed in the 1950s, and the section affected by the fire was part of an expansion and realignment that took place in the 1990s, according to All About Roads’ Interstate Guide.