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Fire all but destroys landmark bridge

BLM helicopter drops water on the bridge fire.
Rail lines on the bridge are melted and warped by the fire.
Utah Railway officials Lee Bagdin, Tim Erchanbrack and Paula Henry confer with state fire warden Rudy Sandoval over the situation concerning the fire.
The bridge fire as it looked at about 8:30am Friday morning.
Troy Mills of the state fire marshalls office takes photos of the burnt areas.
State fire crew battle fires in the Gordon Creek Gorge that were started by falling debris from the bridge.

One of the most unique railroad bridges in the United States was burning this morning as Utah Rail officials puzzled over the reason for the fire.

The bridge, which crosses Gordon Creek and carries tracks to the now shut down mines near Hiawatha, was reported on fire to Carbon County dispatch around 1:30 a.m. Rudy Sandoval, the state fire warden for the area was informed and got to the bridge about 2:30 a.m.

"It lit things up around there," said Sandoval. "The fire was really going."

State fire marshal investigator Troy Mills, who said there was no other possible ignition source except arson, flew over the bridge taking photos just before the helicopter he was in started dumping water on the fire.

"You can see where it started near the middle tower," he stated. "There are spread marks and holes in the ties where they are burned more. It's obvious that an accelerant was used to start the fire."

Helper City sent their water truck to supply water to a portable tank near the fire so the Bureau of Land Management helicopter that had been dispatched out of Moab could dump water on the blaze. But by the time crews were able to start getting any meaningful suppression on the fire about 10:30 a.m. Friday morning the vast bulk of the wooden ties that line the bridge were burned. As officials watched the blaze large chunks of ties fell into the gorge starting small fires below that were quickly handled by Sandoval and his crew.

Damage to the bridge, which was constructed sometime between 1913 and 1917 when the rail line was completed, is severe and whether the steel structure of the bridge will be compromised can only be told after an inspection.

"We haven't run a train over the bridge in two years, because right now there is nothing to haul from the Hiawatha area," said Tim Erchanbrack, vice president of transportation for Utah Railway. "But someday we figure we will be needing it again. This will cost at least several hundred thousand dollars to repair."

Whoever started the fire will face some serious charges, and some of those charges will be federal. The FBI was on its way to the scene to conduct an investigation. Property crimes against railroads are federal offenses.

Paula Henry, the president and general manager of Utah Railway was at the site and also said that the railway would make finding who started the fire a priority.

"We will be offering a substantial reward for whoever comes forward with information leading to the conviction of the person or persons who did this," she stated.

Officials hoped they would have the fire out today and will secure the bridge so no one can be injured. Residents are urged to stay away from the area because of railway business and fire traffic that will be in the area for the next few days.

For those that might have information pertaining to the fire, a call to 801-380-0575 will put them in touch with a railroad official.

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