Historic Minnesota Swing Bridge Catches Fire

Firefighters in Inver Grove Heights battled a smoky blaze at a historic swing bridge that stretched several hundred feet over the Mississippi River Thursday afternoon.

Crews responded to the fire at the Rock Island Swing Bridge at approximately 2 p.m.

The former double-decker railroad and auto bridge connected Inver Grove Heights on the West bank of the river with South Saint Paul on the East bank. It was built in 1894 and has been closed to all traffic for more than two decades. It is currently in the process of being converted into a public recreational pier.

"As soon as I arrived, I requested boats from St. Paul, St. Paul Park and South Metro Fire Departments," Inver Grove Heights Fire Chief Judy Thill told Firehouse.com. She said that construction crews had already been using hoselines from a nearby tugboat to play water on to the fire.

As fire crews arrived, Thill estimated that they stretched 500 feet of four-inch hose along the bridge to supply several handlines. "Our initial attack was two 1 3/4 handlines that were concentrating on protecting the fire on the old part from spreading to the deck on the new section." She said there was a six-inch gap between the two.

The three fire boats used their master streams to help knockdown the flames as they consumed the wooden trusses. Thill said the current and gusty winds hampered the boats efforts. "They were struggling because of the current and the wind was blowing the water streams around."

At one point, the South Metro fire boat tethered to the tugboat to keep itself in place close to the gap between the new and old sections of the bridge.

A tugboat was also called to position at a nearby barge alongside the bridge. Once in position, crews placed portable master streams under the fire.

Thill didn't know the cause of the fire, but investigators were on scene Thursday evening.