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Interstate 85 collapsed in massive flames 6 years ago today | Videos, photos

The sight of Interstate-85, one of the most essential roadways on the East Coast, in flames and collapsing was one of the more arresting in recent Atlanta history.

ATLANTA — This Thursday marks six years since Atlanta's Interstate-85 collapsed in flames. 

The sight of one of the most critical roadways on the East Coast engulfed in a massive fire, ultimately falling near Piedmont road, was one of the more arresting events in recent Atlanta traffic history.

It all started around 6 p.m. on March 30, 2017, but quickly erupted into something more as huge flames enveloped the northbound lanes on both sides and dark smoke rose from under the Buford-Spring Connector.

RELATED: Man accused of starting fire that collapsed I-85 about to finish drug program and start working

Despite it being one of the busiest thoroughfares in metro Atlanta, no one was hurt. 

But the damage and destruction crippled Atlanta. In the following days, traffic snarled through detours, and MARTA use surged.

Ultimately, it took GDOT crews about six weeks to rebuild the interstate. In April 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board deemed that the Georgia Department of Transportation was at least possibly responsible for the collapse – due to the decision to store construction materials under the bridge, failing to realize the risk. 

The disaster became a case example for the Federal Highway Administration to warn other states not to store flammable material under bridges.

Meanwhile, the man who did not have permanent housing at the time and was accused of starting the fire emerged out of a legal saga in 2020. He graduated from a court-mandated behavioral and drug abuse program and began a search for a new job.

There have been several incidents with fires breaking out under I-85 in roughly the same area in the years since. The issue of what to do about homeless encampments where they typically originate has never been settled.

Fortunately, none have spread like the one that brought down a portion of the interstate six years ago.

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