Fire shuts down Interstate 20

This view of I-20 eastbound facing Covington was shot from the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, courtesy of pilot Bill Riley, around 2 p.m. Tuesday. The West Avenue interchange is near the top center. Photo by Lee Depkin

Staff Reporter
Newton Citizen

COVINGTON — According to the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT), the massive toxic fire at a BioLab plant in Conyers created a “traffic nightmare” that prompted local officials to ask for people to simply stay at home. 

Starting at 11 a.m., DOT officials closed off a 27-mile stretch of I-20 reaching from Panola Road down to Social Circle. 

Resembling a scene from a science fiction movie, the normally booming stretch of interstate was a ghost track marked with an occasional emergency vehicle. 

“We will be opening I-20 for the time being, but this is a cautionary opening that could change,” DOT spokesman Carlene Barrett said. “Should the wind shift back and push the cloud back down, we will close I-20 without notice.” 

A few hours later, the DOT made good on its words. 

Fearing that visibility might be an issue once darkness sets in, the DOT ordered that I-20 be closed overnight beginning at 8 p.m. 

For those who found themselves stuck in traffic, the DOT established two alternative routes to bypass the scene. 

For those traveling eastbound on I-20, the detour went from Panola Road to Ga. 212, then south into Monticello and north on Ga. 83 to I- 20. 

The westbound detour, starting at Social Circle, led north on Ga. 11 to U.S. 78, then west on U.S. 78 to I-285. 

For Rockdale County residents, travel was further impeded by a perimeter bordering the fire scene. 

According to DOT officials, the perimeter stretched from West Avenue to Flat Shoals Road to Ga. 138 most of Tuesday afternoon. 

“We are asking that people, unless they must be in the area, stay home this evening. … Traffic will be gridlocked in this area,” Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jodi Shupe said. 

For one local resident stuck on Ga. 212 Tuesday, the term gridlock was an understatement. 

“Right now, I’m sitting in my car on Ga. 212 and it’s bumper to bumper. … It’s been at least an hour since I was diverted off I-20,” Conyers resident Josh Callum said. “I’ve heard that some people might not be getting home tonight. … It’s crazy.” 

DOT officials declined to estimate the number of motorists stuck in traffic as a result of the fire. 

Staff Photo: Lee Depkin 

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