"This is about as serious a transportation crisis as we can imagine," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Thursday night after a massive fire caused an elevated section of Interstate 85 to collapse. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sees a "traffic mess" for Friday and the foreseeable future, with alternate routes quickly clogging in the aftermath. The interstate carries an estimated 250,000 cars a day in both directions, and there's no word on when it might reopen, notes the AP. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency as firefighters extinguished the huge blaze, which does not appear to have caused any deaths or injuries, reports WSB-TV. The cause of the blaze is unknown, but "the speculation I've heard is that there are some PVC products that caught fire," Deal says. Officials say there is no indication that the blaze is connected to terrorism.
The fire burned for at least an hour after starting around 6:30pm on the highway, which is a major north-south thoroughfare for Atlanta and the whole Southeast. Atlanta Fire Department spokesman Cortez Stafford says a crew returning from another fire spotted smoke coming from under I-85. Soon, "there was a 40-feet or higher wall of fire. Power lines were falling and arcing heavily and falling in the street," he tells CNN. Firefighters managed to shut the highway down and got out of the way just before a bridge section up to 100 feet long collapsed. Transportation authorities were scrambling to put together alternate routes for drivers, while encouraging them to carpool and take mass transit.