National News

Feds warn of fire dangers after Atlanta's I-85 bridge collapse

Posted April 11, 2018 3:02 p.m. EDT

ATLANTA -- A year after I-85 in Atlanta caught fire and collapsed, federal regulators are warning the nation's transportation officials to be careful about storing combustible materials under bridges.

The National Transportation Safety Board Wednesday issued a safety alert warning that fires fueled by such materials could have catastrophic results -- just as one did in Atlanta, where a fire set by a homeless man quickly spread to construction materials stored under I-85.

"Although catastrophic fires fueled by materials stored underneath bridges are relatively rare events, the loss of this (I-85) structure demonstrates what can happen if bridge owners are not vigilant about monitoring and controlling such materials," the NSTB warned.

The safety alert is the latest fallout from an incident that crippled metro Atlanta traffic for six weeks.

A homeless man allegedly set the fire beneath I-85 near Piedmont Road. It quickly spread to high-density plastic conduit the Georgia Department of Transportation had stored under the bridge for years.

The fire destroyed a 350-foot section of I-85 -- a section that took GDOT and a contractor six weeks to restore.

GDOT says it has already taken steps to ensure such an event doesn't happen again. On Wednesday the NTSB warned other agencies to evaluate materials stored under their bridges and remove anything that could pose a fire risk.

GDOT issued a response to the alert, saying it had cooperated in the preparation of the document and was pleased with the "valuable guidance" it provided.

"Last year, GDOT made changes in its storage practices within hours after the bridge collapse and we remain committed to building on the changes we have already implemented, which specify no storage of flammable or combustible materials under bridges," the statement said. "We are hopeful that these recommendations from the NTSB will be instrumental for other relevant agencies and Departments of Transportation across the country to prevent instances like this from happening elsewhere."

David Wickert writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Email: dwickert(at)ajc.com.

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service