Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency Thursday night after fire officials extinguished a massive fire on I-85 in Atlanta that led to the collapse of a bridge on the interstate.
The bridge on I-85 northbound just south of Ga. 400 near Piedmont Road collapsed about 7 p.m., Atlanta fire spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford said.
No injuries to motorists or first responders were reported.
Mayor Kasim Reed said late Thursday he’d spoken with the FBI “and at this time there’s no evidence of terrorism.”
He said city officials will be working to assess the bridge throughout the night.
“This is as serious a transportation crisis as we could have. The governor has been leading and we have been acting on it,” Reed said. “Our primary concern, first and most important, is that no one has lost their life. And as we stand here right now, we think that’s the situation.”
Stafford said a cause of the fire can’t be determined at this time because inspectors can't get under the bridge due to structural concerns.
"The entire bridge is compromised," Stafford said. "Right now, it's still dangerous to go under there."
Deal said Georgia Department of Transportation inspectors are on the scene and that the construction crew that built the bridge has been contacted to look at the schematics and determine how long it will take to repair.
He said the cause of the fire is not yet known but “the speculation I’ve heard is that there are some PVC products that caught fire.”
Witness James Shilkett was driving by the fire around 6:15 p.m. when he said he saw PVC piping on fire. Shilkett said two police officers were already on the scene and out of their squad car. Another police car arrived within one to two minutes, with fire engines another two or five minutes behind that, he said.
Spokesman Eric Burton said all MARTA trains are running as normal and have not been affected by the fire.
“MARTA seems like your best bet to get out of the city,” Burton said.
Atlanta Public Schools will be on normal schedule Friday, Channel 2 Action News reported, but DeKalb County Schools will be canceled.
The City of Atlanta government offices and the Municipal Court of Atlanta will have a delayed start of 10 a.m. Friday.
Capt. Mark Perry of the Georgia State Patrol said terrorism is not suspected, but they don't know what started the fire. At first they thought it was a car burning, but later said it could have been something else, Perry said.
Troopers based in Atlanta were working about 7:45 p.m. to get cars on the interstate turned around.
Atlanta police spokeswoman Officer Stephanie Brown told Channel 2 that her department is working on a traffic plan for Friday morning.
Hours after the collapse, the air stretching a quarter-mile north of the bridge was still acrid, spreading like a thin black fog.
All businesses surrounding the site were closed, including Tower Liquors, several popular adult entertainment clubs, shops and restaurants.
The collapse site is near the Orkin pesticide corporate headquarters on Piedmont Road.
Atlanta police on the scene said it could be hours or days before the stretch of Piedmont is open again to traffic because authorities are concerned with potential structural damage.
“We’ve been so busy dealing with making sure the fire was out and that no lives were lost that we haven’t moved to the traffic planning phase,” Reed said. “There’s a team at GDOT that’s now working on that, and I’m confident that the governor will have answers (Friday) morning.”
All Rose Diggs wanted to do was get home.
She lives less than a mile from the crash, but couldn’t get home because Piedmont Road between Garson Drive and Lakeshore Drive was blocked.
"I have a handicap," she said, "and they're saying I have to walk, but it's raining and dark."
Michael Brooks, 43, was heading home on I-85 when he saw the smoke.
"I thought it was a terrible wreck. Vehicles stopped suddenly," said Brooks, who works at CNN.
People started getting out of their cars. They said, "the bridge is going to collapse."
Brooks said he sat there for two and a half hours. As for Friday, he said about getting to work, "I guess I'll figure that out some way."
Nicole Allen, Chris Krupa and Jason Shipp were at a Taco Mac on Lindbergh when they noticed everyone was staring out the window taking pictures.
"Usually Piedmont Road is gridlocked," Krupa said. "But it's a ghost town."
All are worried about one thing: how this will affect Friday's commute.
"I'll probably take the side streets," Allen said.
Shipp was hoping for something different:
"Maybe this catastrophe will draw attention to increasing MARTA lines and better transportation infrastructure," he said.
All lanes on the interstate remain blocked.
GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said the interstate will be closed in both directions “for the foreseeable future.”
The collapse of a major interstate through town is sure to scramble commerce. Companies are contemplating their next moves.
A spokeswoman for Atlanta-based delivery giant UPS said the company’s contingency planners are assessing the I-85 situation “to define our activity, routing.”
While many interstate tractor-trailer drivers use I-285, rather than taking I-85 through the city, the closing of I-85 will certainly push traffic onto other interstates, potentially scrambling traffic there.
Delta Air Lines said it will “work with customers on a case-by-case basis to accommodate them if they’re running late as a result of any ensuing traffic issues.”
The Atlanta-based airline also said it encourages its employees to monitor traffic reports and “use their best judgment in safely commuting to their jobs,” spokesman Morgan Durrant said.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday evening warned people to allow extra time heading southbound or to take MARTA.