Jacksonville Times Union

Burned trestle too damaged for quick fix

Part of Colonels Island bridge falls



By Terry Dickson
Times-Union staff writer

Hopes of quickly restoring rail service to Colonels Island after a trestle caught fire Saturday appear unlikely after sections of the bridge collapsed, leaving the rails without support.

The trestle burned through Saturday night and firefighters were still pumping water onto the structure until 2:30 p.m. yesterday, Glynn County Fire Chief Carl Johnson said. The fire started mid-afternoon Saturday from a forest fire on Fancy Bluff and quickly engulfed half the trestle. The woods fire flared up again yesterday, and the Georgia Forestry Commission plowed more breaks around it, Johnson said.

Firefighters were hampered by strong winds, a lack of access, a lack of water and the volatility of the timbers that are treated with creosote. The fire burned along all of the western half of the 500-yard trestle. The steel support beams in the center over Fancy Bluff Creek kept it from burning farther east toward Colonels Island.

The worst damage occurred about halfway between the mainland and the center span because firefighters couldn't get to it, Johnson said. Firefighters in boats used portable pumps to spray water from Fancy Bluff Creek onto the fire, but they had to limit their efforts to high tide.

"We were able to catch a high tide and get some water onto it,'' Johnson said.

One Glynn County Fire Department pumper was driven down the tracks to the western end of the trestle where three Brantley County volunteer fire departments used their military surplus 2 1/2 ton tanker trucks -- called fire knockers -- to resupply it with water, Johnson said.

Some of the pilings and support timbers remain serviceable, but others were destroyed. By yesterday morning, sections of rail were hanging in midair with no timbers beneath them.

"They'll have to replace the track and the timbers,'' Johnson said.

The line serves the Georgia Ports Authority's Colonels Island terminals, where autos are imported and exported and grain is exported from a bulk commodities facility. The vehicle shipments can be switched to trucks, but almost all the grain arrives by rail.

"We're expecting 150,000 tons of wheat in July and August. We might have it back up in time. It's very important to us,'' said Robert Morris, spokesman for the Ports Authority.

The Ports Authority will assess the damage in the coming days, Morris said.

The wheat shipments are a complete turnaround at the facility, which shipped no wheat after last year's drought, Morris said.