Bunker Mill Bridge destroyed
KALONA— A fire that destroyed the historic Bunker Mill Bridge, also known as the English River Bridge, Sunday morning is being investigated as arson.
Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar confirmed today that the Kalona Fire Department and the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating the fire as having been intentionally set.
“They are probably going to take some wood for testing to see if an accelerant was used,” Dunbar said. “They are also going to ask around to see if anyone saw anything. Hopefully, they pick up something from there.”
Kalona Fire Chief Steve Yotty said the Kalona Fire Department arrived on scene around 5:30 a.m.
“When we got there it was fully engulfed,” Yotty said.
He said he doesn’t think the fire was accidental.
“It wasn’t a campfire,” he said. “It was intentionally set. The state Fire Marshall’s office has been called and we are investigating.”
He said the Kalona Fire Department was on scene until 10 a.m. and were assisted by the Washington County Sheriff’s department, the Washington County Engineer’s office, and the state Fire Marshal’s office.
Washington County engineer Jacob Thorius found out about the fire about a quarter to eight. He said he was on scene shortly afterward.
Thorius isn’t sure what will happen to the charred remains of the bridge.
“Right now we’re working on clean up,” Thorius said. “The wood deck of the bridge is a complete loss.”
This week Thorius said he would speak with an engineer consultant about the bridge. He said the structural integrity of the bridge would have to be evaluated before any more decisions were made as to whether or not it should be replaced.
This morning the metal frame of the bridge showed signs of having bent in the heat. Remains of the wooden surface of the bridge lay in burnt pieces.
The bridge has been standing since 1897, according to the Washington County Historical Society.
Dunbar said that the sheriff’s office had investigated several incidents out by the bridge. He said that it was a popular spot for people to go and that in the past deputies had found the remains of campfires that had been built on the bridge. He said there are no persons of interest or suspects yet.
There have been two other instances of historic bridges being intentionally set on fire. He said the Welston Bridge had been burnt about 12 years ago. He also said the Rubio Bridge, which was northwest of Rubio, was also burned down. Both were investigated as arson, but no one was ever arrested in either case.
Kalona City administrator Ryan Schlabaugh said the unique thing about this bridge is that it was one of the original bridges used in Washington County to get traffic across the English River from Kalona to Richmond.
It is because of the history of the bridge the City of Kalona and the City of Richmond were looking into having a walking trail from Kalona to Richmond, Schlabaugh said. Without the bridge they may lose the funds from the DOT’s (Department of Transportation) enhancement fund.
“It’s a set back if the bridge isn’t structurally safe,” he said. “We knew we were up against time for those funds.”
Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 653-2107.