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Blaze destroys 150-year-old covered bridge

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Posted on September 12, 2016 |
By John S. McCright



covered bridge burning horiz 1.JPG
FIRE JUMPS OUT of the Cornwall side of the covered bridge over Otter Creek between Cornwall and Salisbury on Saturday afternoon. Police are investigating the cause of the blaze. Photos by Isabel Lower

CORNWALL/SALISBURY — The charred remains of the covered bridge that crossed Otter Creek between Salisbury and Cornwall smoldered early Sunday evening more than 24 hours after a fire of unknown origin had quickly engulfed and consumed the picturesque and historic span.

Curious people visited both end of the blackened, skeletal corpse, got out of their cars for a look, and then drove back the way they came.

Black timbers reached up both sides with other black boards laying about the black deck. Pieces of metal roofing drooped between the few remaining rafters, other pieces of the roof poked out of the slow-moving creek below. The two 77-foot spans to a central pier sagged, as if they had not quite given up.

A visitor was hard pressed to find a board that was not black with soot and char.

The fire struck the bridge, which connects Creek Road on the Salisbury side and Swamp Road on the Cornwall side, at mid-afternoon on Saturday, Sept. 10.

Isabel Lower of Middlebury and two friends were driving from Cornwall on Swamp Road when they saw smoke coming from the bridge and stopped. A young woman was standing outside her car where she had pulled over and was trying to  report the fire. When the woman couldn’t get cell service, Lower herself got on her phone and called 911. It was 2:35 p.m., she said.

“During that 60-second phone call the bridge went from just smoking on the opposite side from us, to entirely engulfed,” Lower told the Independent.

Vermont State Police responded to a report of the fire at 2:51 p.m. Troopers found the bridge fully immersed in flames when they arrived. Firefighters from Cornwall and Salisbury were already on the scene battling the blaze.

Police did not speculate on the cause of the fire. Fire investigators from the state police and the Vermont Division of Fire Safety are investigating. They asked that anyone who may have been in the vicinity of the bridge on Saturday around 2:15 p.m. to contact Detective Sgt. Sutton at the Rutland state police barracks at 802-773-9101 or call the Vermont Arson Tip Award Program (VATAP) at 1-800-32-ARSON.

Lower and her friends stayed at the fire for less than 10 minutes and took a few photos that accompany this story. The images show the fire simply consuming the 136-foot-long bridge.

“The heat coming off it was incredible, that and the speed that the flames took over,” Lower said. “From the boat launch I took a few pictures but it was too hot to stay standing that close.”

The bridge was originally built in 1865 with a town lattice truss design. It was overhauled in 2007-2008, given new sides and a new roof, and brought up to modern standards.

Lower and her friends left the way they came and encountered Cornwall firefighters racing to the fire at the intersection of Swamp Road and Route 30.

Lower was particularly upset by the apparent loss of a colony of endangered bats that lived in the covered bridge

“Last summer I saw Fish and Wildlife scientists and students netting the bats leaving the bridge at sundown to tag them,” she said. “Today, as I was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, I did see one bat flap out of the smoke and fall to the road.”

Police closed the road (Creek Road in Salisbury and Swamp Road in Cornwall) for an undetermined time.

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