News and Tribune

Clark County

May 8, 2008

Big Four Bridge fire’s cause, damage not yet determined

JEFFERSONVILLE — Residents lined Jeffersonville’s Riverside Drive to watch as smoke rolled off the deck of the Big Four Bridge on Wednesday afternoon.

The cause of the fire and the extent to which the abandoned railroad bridge was damaged is unknown.

By late Wednesday, Louisville Fire & Rescue had the fire pretty much out, said Capt. Ronel Brown, a spokesman for the department. Because of safety questions, firefighters were not sent onto the bridge deck. Instead, they battled the blaze from a boat equipped with water cannons.

The cause of the fire will be investigated once the structural soundness of the bridge is determined, Brown said. The fire could be related to electrical problems, as navigation lights had been shorting out recently, he noted.

The lights are attached to the underside of the bridge to guide river traffic.

Firefighters from Jeffersonville were on standby as the fire occurred, a press release from the city said.

The fire occurred on the third bridge segment from Louisville’s shoreline, more than two-thirds of the river’s width from Jeffersonville.

Captain Tim Conlen, ranking Jeffersonville firefighter on site, said Wednesday’s fire was at least the fourth blaze on the Big Four Bridge since the late 1970s. During a fire in the mid-1980s, Conlen said, firefighters from Jeffersonville worked six to eight hours to extinguish flames.

The Jeffersonville Fire Department and Louisville Fire & Rescue have a long-standing mutual aid agreement. Louisville Fire & Rescue was among several departments providing support for the Jeffersonville Fire Department in January 2004, when several buildings in the 300 block of Spring Street caught fire.

“I am relieved that this fire did not put people at risk and that firefighters from our department and Louisville’s were prudent enough to stay off the bridge’s deck,” Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan said in a news release.

The city of Jeffersonville and the Louisville Waterfront Development Corp. plan to convert the Big Four bridge into a pedestrian crossing.

“It is too early to know how, or if, this fire will affect the redevelopment of the Big Four Bridge,” Galligan said. “But had the renovation already taken place, the wood that burned today would be gone, replaced by nonflammable materials such as asphalt and concrete.”

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