October 28, 2020

Wooden bridge closed after arsonist sets fire to it, damages underpinnings

Folks in one Mississippi county will have to find an alternate route home after a fire on one of the few remaining wooden bridges in the area has closed it for at least 30 days.

Firefighters from Baldwyn, Guntown and Pratts-Friendship responded Tuesday to a fire on a bridge over Twenty Mile Creek in Lee County. First District Supervisor Phil Morgan said the bridge’s destruction appears to be the result of arson, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

“It’s going to be arson because there were fires on both ends of the bridge,” Morgan said. “I told them to close the bridge until we can get an inspector in to take a look at it, assess the damage and give us an estimate on repair costs.”

Morgan said the bridge will remain closed for at least a month.

“We won’t open it back up until we repair it,” he said.

The last major repairs to the bridge happened about 12 years ago. A road paving contractor drove a heavy piece of equipment onto the bridge, forcing it to close for several months.

County Road 1213 runs 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from Pratts Road southwest towards the Friendship area, dead-ending into County Road 1275. The 500-foot bridge features a wooden deck and mostly wooden stringers underneath. Steel beams hold the 90-foot (27.4 meter) span over the creek. The one-lane bridge is rated for 6,000 pounds.

“There are houses on both ends of the road, but it is just farmland right around it,” Morgan said. “It’s mostly used as a pass-through road. Farmers will use it to go back and forth between fields, but they don’t run heavy equipment over it because it is only rated for 3 tons.”

Fires appear to have been deliberately set in two locations on the bridge, burning holes through the road deck. While that damage appears small, officials are more concerned about what may have happened underneath.

“I crawled up under there and you can see where the fire spread to the virgin creosote that has never been exposed to the weather,” Morgan said. “The stringers underneath caught fire. We’ll have to have an expert look at those to see what kind of damage there is and how much will have to be replaced just to get it back to where it was.”

Morgan said he believes the bridge can be repaired but it will be a matter of cost. Replacing the wooden structure with a two-lane concrete bridge would cost more than $15 million. Morgan said that wouldn’t be economically feasible for a little-used bridge in a remote part of the county.