GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Interstate 85 has reopened after a massive fire that shut down all lanes northbound at Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Gwinnett County Saturday morning.
Gwinnett County police said a tractor-trailer loaded with fuel crashed into a passenger vehicle around 8 a.m. Both vehicles burst into flames, killing both drivers.
Police identified the victims as Emerald Lynn, 31, of Norcross, and Yonas Worku, 44, of Snellville. Police said Lynn, was driving a silver Volkswagen and had stopped in the second from right lane after being involved in a separate traffic accident. Worku, who was driving a truck pulling a tanker with about 8,500 gallons of fuel, ran into the back of Lynn’s car.
Police said the tanker truck flipped multiple times.
The fuel from the truck flowed into a storm drain and underneath the southbound lanes of I-85, causing multiple explosions in the sewer system. Smoke and flames billowed from manhole covers in the area.
It took firefighters more than two hours to get the flames under control.
Several people had to abandon their cars and nearby businesses were evacuated. Hengam Dero works as a medical assistant in the area and had to evacuate her car.
“They made us leave the car because there were other explosions,” Dero said. “After two or three hours, they said we could go back to the car and turn around, but it was bad.”
The inferno also sparked a brush fire that caused power outages in the area.
Firefighters used foam to snuff out parts of the fire and let the fuel that seeped from the truck burn off. All five northbound lanes of the highway were damaged and crews had to rush to make repairs.
“The fire was so intense that it actually cooked the surface of the pavement, so obviously, that compromises the integrity. It’s not safe for travel, so we actually have to scrape that layer of asphalt off,” Scott Highley with GDOT said.
In total, the interstate was shutdown completely or partially for 10 hours. Crews finished emergency repaving around 6 p.m.
Dawson Boulevard was also shut down but has since reopened. Crescent Drive remained closed Saturday night due to a water main break caused by the blaze.
Channel 2′s Christian Jennings talked to drivers who were caught in the snarled traffic. Faith Harris said that what was supposed to be a 30 minute drive turned into a more than 2 hour drive.
“I had no idea (about the crash,” Harris said. “I got up, started my day. I just got in the car and we were just coming to a church event and then we didn’t even make it there.”
Channel 2′s Tom Jones talked to the owners of nearby businesses, who expected crowds ahead of the Super Bowl. What they got instead were stores that looked like ghost towns.
Sean Hamilton works at Best Price Furniture and said business is usually bustling on Saturday.
“Oh man It would be a busy time right now,” Hamilton said. “During this time, I have a lot of customers back and forth.”
Mike Foley, who works at Unique Interiors, also said the crash impacted his business.
“This is the busiest day of the week,” Foley said. “Right now, the only people in the parking lot are emergency vehicles.”
© 2020 Cox Media Group