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Arson Suspected in Blaze That Damaged
Covered Bridge in Cross Creek Township


WEST MIDDLETOWN, PA - Friday, September 27 - Volunteer firefighters from surrounding communities extinguished an early morning fire threatening the Wilson Mill Bridge, a historic 40-foot covered span at the brim of Cross Creek State Park in Cross Creek Township. According to Capt. Bill Bryker of the Washington County Sheriff's Department, a neighbor saw the fire about 5:45 a.m. and called 911. By the time deputies arrived at the bridge, the firefighters had extinguished the fire.
       Mt. Pleasant Township Fire Department Capt. Pat Felton said one side of the bridge was burning when firefighters arrived about 6:30 a.m. West Middletown Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the opposite side of the bridge about the same time, and the two companies worked together to put out the fire. Avella and Smith volunteer fire companies were placed on standby.
       "We didn't want to get everybody bottlenecked," Felton said. "There were a couple of guys from Avella who responded to the scene in their own vehicles and they helped out with West Middletown and our company."
       The fire has been ruled suspicious.
       "There are no lights or anything in there electrical that could spark a fire," Bryker said. "We're looking at it like an arson."
       The sheriff's office is investigating in conjunction with the state police fire marshal. Damage to one side of the bridge has been estimated at $2,500, Bryker said. The road bed was not affected.
       "It's a shame because that's a nice historical structure," Felton said.
       Vincent Ley, engineer with the Washington County Bridge Department, said, "Structurally, it's an iron bridge with a covered bridge over top of it."
       Built in 1889, Wilson Mill Bridge was moved to its current location in the early 1980s, when Cross Creek Lake was built. It had been slated for rehabilitation, Ley said.
       "We were going to select a consulting engineer in the next couple of weeks," he said. "And eventually it will be advertised for reconstruction."
       Felton said the metal deck is what probably saved the integrity of the bridge, which will remain open to traffic. In the meantime, engineers from the bridge department mounted wood planks across the fire damage as a safety precaution.
       "If it wasn't for the quick response of the Mt. Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department, the whole thing would the whole thing would have went up," Ley said.
       Copyright 2002 Observer Publishing Co.
[Our thanks to John Richards and his publisher, Washington Observer-Reporter, Washington, PA, for their permission to post this article, thanks to Trish Kane for forwarding it - Ed.]

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Joe Nelson, P.O Box 267, Jericho, VT 05465-0267, jcnelson@together.net
This file posted November 5, 2002