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BNSF Railway bridge fire had human cause, repairs near completion

Workers repairing part of the Grand Forks railroad bridge after the structure was engulfed in flames last week could be finished by the end of Thursday, Aug. 24.

Construction crews finished driving new piles for the bridge Tuesday night and have been welding since then to bring the Red River crossing back online, said Amy McBeth, a representative of BNSF Railway, which owns the bridge. The final step of rebuilding will have workers installing new track panels. Once that's done, the bridge will be ready for traffic to resume.

An investigation of the Friday morning fire determined the blaze was "caused by a human act," according to a news release sent by Battalion Chief Bruce Weymier of the Grand Forks Fire Department.

The investigation was carried out by the Grand Forks fire marshal and Grand Forks police with help from BNSF. It was determined that it was unlikely the fire—which started in and consumed a wooden "icebreaker" frame protecting steel girders on the North Dakota side of the river—was caused by sparks from a passing train.

The inside of the icebreaker structure is semi-enclosed and accessible by way of an open back end. Last winter, a deceased man was found there frozen in river ice.

Weymier said investigators don't yet know if last week's fire was intentional or accidental. The cause of the blaze is listed as "undetermined" and continues to be under investigation.

The area around the site of the fire has been closed as BNSF crews work on the bridge with heavy machinery. The site has been illuminated through the nights by way of a powerful floodlight to allow for work to continue after sundown.

The bridge has been shut down to all train traffic, which has been rerouted. If the work schedule goes as planned and construction is finished Thursday, the route could be reopened to trains by the end of that day.

The Grand Forks Fire Department asks anyone with information about the fire to contact its offices at (701) 746-2566.

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