T Nation

Atlanta Bridge Fire


This is more of a regional issue. But for those of us who live in the region, it’s craziness. The file shut down a major artery. When I am talking major, it’s where it’s 10 lanes wide and the way out of Atlanta and surrounding communities. It’s unimaginably crippling to the city. Imagine a fire hot enough to melt steel reinforced concrete? The physics of that I cannot wrap my head around. Try to melt concrete. The heat had to literally reach temperatures of a volcanic eruption. That’s the only way to do it.

This isn’t like a metal bridge it’s an slightly elevated highway.

So the story goes, and there have been a lot of them, that three homeless people went under the bridge to smoke crack. One of them, for some reason, I guess he was just fucking around, set a chair on fire. Little did he know, all the poly urethane piping stored under there, left over from the construction caught fire and was so hot it melted concrete.
It melted concrete…

So right now, the three of them are in jail waiting arraignment on a number of charges. But I honestly feel bad for them. The City of Atlanta or the contractor who did the work was supposed to have removed that material years ago, but I guess never got around to it. These were just 3 homeless drug addicts who have probably done shit like this dozens of times and nothing happened. The area they were in was gravel, rock, this material, the bridge over them, and that’s about it. Nothing that would give an indication that one could create a fire to rival to sun for it’s heat.

So I don’t know what to do with those guys. I don’t think they went in with the intention of burning down a concrete bridge. But they do deserve some punishment. ‘No crack for you!’

I don’t know what culpability the people who left the material hold. It was supposed to be removed and never was. It wasn’t thought of as dangerous because it isn’t combustible. It takes a pretty hot sustained source to get that shit to ignite.

The ‘screwed’ Atlanta is, is pretty unbelievable. People who live here know how bad the traffic is, normally. With one of the biggest arteries to and from the business hub of the city completely shut down… Wow. Right now, a lot of companies are letting those who are able, to work from home. That is helping. But still things can only go on for so long. People eventually have to get places. The small business impact is going to be devastating. People who depend on the traffic in that area to make a living are going to have the hardest time.

This is what it looks like to cripple a city…


They had already cleared a lot of traffic by then.


Big hole.

Look at the char on this pillar:


This is where the fire happened to give you an idea… The good news is it’s after where I 85 and I 75 split. If it happened 2 miles further south, the screwed for the city would be double.
So the city is fed in, north and south by I 85, which goes north east/ south east. And I 75 which is more or less north/ south. I 75/85 converge north and south of the city becoming one, through the middle. Cutting across the center of the city is I 20 the only east/ west major thoroughfare. I 285 wraps around the city in a 65 mile ring and it has the worst congestion of all the highways.

It’s also why the traffic in Atlanta is so bad. North and south of the city there are no east/west routes except for back roads. To go east or west, you always have to go north or south at some point.
This story isn’t as flashy as some terrorist attack, but it’s affect is every bit as bad.
Also a good road map for terrorists, you want to cripple American cities, take out there highways and bridges…


My sister and law lives an exit down from where it took place at. She is now trying to move. Lol


There is an upside to her staying… A lot of government money is heading that way. Being so close she just may be a benefactor.


Yeah? I think I heard on NPR they estimated it would take 3 years to fix? Worth it?


Worth it or not, they have no choice. I has to be fixed. I figure they are going to prep the southbound lanes to take some northbound traffic for a couple of miles. After that, that’s the way it will be for 2-3 years while they fix the damage.
If they remove the bureaucracy from the process and expedite the paper work I bet they could have if fixed in a year. It doesn’t take that long to do the work and the plans already exist from the previous construction.
They just need to do their investigation quickly so that repairs can begin.
Now would be a prime time for a politician to shine… We’ll see if anybody steps to the plate, or if the blood suckers just figure out how to milk the situation for all it’s worth.


In basic fire science we learn that if you heat a structural steel beam 50 feet long to 1000 degrees F it has to expand 4 inches. I imagine the beams in the bridge were much longer than that.

If they have no room to expand they will buckle. So the fire didn’t actually have to burn that hot. This was one of the details the 911 Truthers got wrong: you don’t have to melt the steel structure, just heat it up enough to weaken it.

Just goes to show how fragile the fabric of our civilization is.


We had a near collapse here in Pittsburgh last year due to carelessness with a blow torch.


Ha, I saw your avatar posting in here and figured you were chiming in with the near-disaster we had with the Liberty Bridge a few months ago. We (the city) dodged a bullet there…getting in & out of downtown is relatively smooth for a major city, but wipe out one of the major arteries from the south and it would be much more of a pain in the rear.

@pat, thanks for sharing some of the details. I had heard about this in passing but hadn’t read a full story anywhere, so this is appreciated. FWIW, if the “three guys smoking crack” story is true, I agree with you that they don’t deserve punishment commensurate with destruction of a bridge because it seems pretty obvious that there was no intent (prosecute them for whatever drug-related offense, sure, but burning down the bridge…come on).

As for the city - I believe you that it will be disruptive and generally annoying, but people will hopefully find ways to adapt, and as you said, hopefully the local authorities step up and bust their asses to get something done.


Yeah. I’m always amazed with the simplicity of these things and how quickly they can happen. I can’t imagine how different that would have been if one of those sections came down.

I was out on rt.51 last year when a machine operator took down an overhead cable- which snagged on to the bumper of an on-coming tanker truck- and started dragging it toward a bout a dozen of us-

I heard a weird metal Pzzziiiiii and wheels skidding- then Holey Shit! people flying everywhere. A couple of guys got scuffed up in the scramble, but nothing serious. And some big bad dudes crying.

The machine operator blamed everything but the kitchen sink and himself for that one.


Same thing happened in Philadelphia in 96.


There sure wasn’t intent to take out an entire interstate. They were acting foolish, but int the end this was just an accident.
Fortunately nobody died and that’s the most important thing.


Wow… These distilled petroleum products burn hot.


That makes perfect sense actually. What’s interesting though is that the concrete was the primary support and the steel, secondary. Do you have an explanation about the concrete or is the steel inside trying to expand break it and cause it to fall?


Excellent article about the physics of the fire…


why would it take 2-3 years?
Bridges get built every day by the road depts.


I’m guessing this is why? In addition to all the paperwork and permits blah blah blah?


Shit, they’re talking months right now. By June I heard on GBP this morning. That would be impressive.