HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A highway disaster in Georgia is causing Hawaii transportation officials to review procedures across the islands, especially in places where homeless encampments could pose threats to motorways.
On Oahu, hidden beneath one of the most traveled stretches of highway on Oahu, lies an encampment that's largely unchecked by the government. Outreach workers estimate about 200 people live there.
Campsites are scattered among tightly packed piles of rubbish, and with little oversight, campfires are common. So are cars. Just a stones throw away is a state-owned storage yard, one that contains what appears to be a disposal area for used propane tanks.
The area became a greater concern after a massive fire beneath Interstate 85 in Atlanta caused a portion of the highway to collapse.
"The hodgepodge of activity that we have under the freeway overpass, it's not appropriate," said Panos Prevedouros, Chairman of the U.H. Civil Engineering Department
Prevedouros says the combination of trash, vehicles, tires and tanks could be disastrous if fire broke out.
In 2016, firefighters responded to seven rubbish fires in the area. Fire department officials say all were small, with no damage or serious injuries reported.
"It takes a really long time. A five minute fire cannot bring a bridge down," said Prevedouros.
But a fire burning at an extremely high temperature, for an extended period of time, can weaken the metal rebar that supports the concrete and cause a collapse. Prevedouros says its rare, but it's also why you shouldn't store a lot of combustible material underneath the viaduct.
Hawaii News Now asked Prevedouros if what happened in Atlanta could happen here, with the viaduct in its current state. Prevedouros said "potentially."
The fire department doesn't inspect state property, but said it would provide recommendations to the Department of Transportation if it was asked to.
Transportation department officials declined to be interviewed for this story but said bridge inspections happen every two years, and that inspectors will be reminded to check for combustible materials.