Three arrested after fire causes part of Interstate 85 to collapse in Atlanta

Wil Longbottom, News Reporter

Three people have been arrested after a massive fire caused part of a busy US highway to collapse triggering traffic chaos.

Dozens of firefighters battled to control the blaze underneath the roadway, before evacuating the area as the intense heat caused a section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta, Georgia, to break up.

Basil Eleby faces a charge of criminal damage to property, while Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas have been charged with criminal trespass, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence said.

He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper: "We believe they were together when the fire was set and Eleby is the one who set the fire."

No details on how the blaze was started have been released, pending the outcome of investigations.

The fire broke out on Thursday in an area used to store construction materials and equipment.

Joel Baker, Atlanta Fire Chief, said crews "heard the cracking of the concrete".

"They could see concrete was flying all over the place toward firefighters."

The road was shut down before it collapsed. No one was injured.

Structural engineering experts said fires on highways and bridges rarely burn long enough or hot enough to cause a complete collapse.

Lauren Stewart, director of the Structural Engineering and Materials Laboratory at Georgia Tech in Atlanta said: "With fires, especially fires that burn for long periods and with high heat, you can see structures, anything from buildings to bridges, can have their material properties degrade."

In 1996, a fire in a pile of tyres underneath I-95 in Philadelphia severely weakened the road and forced authorities to shut down four miles of the busy route to allow for repairs.

Russell McMurry, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, said repairs on the road could take months.

Some 350ft of highway will need to be replaced in both directions on the I-85, which carries around 400,000 cars a day.

Traffic was gridlocked in roads around the interstate on Friday.

US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has released $10m (£8m) for the repair work.