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Fire Collapses Bridge onto Interstate

Monday, May 12, 2014

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A fire sparked by a blowtorch and fueled by strong winds has wiped out nearly two months of construction work on a $59 million California interstate project.

The wood falsework for an uncompleted overpass in Hesperia, CA, caught fire about 1:30 p.m. PT May 5, shooting flames down the entire length of the bridge and causing sections to start collapsing onto the freeway below.

The fire started during rebar cutting operations on the Ranchero Road Overpass project over Interstate 15 and shut down all lanes of traffic on the primary connector between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, officials said.

Blowtorches being used for the job carried the fire into the falsework, causing it to ignite, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Interstate 15 San Bernardino fire
Caltrans, Courtesy of a Twitter follower

Wooden falsework on an interstate overpass project caught fire May 5 during rebar cutting work, destroying the entire structure.

Only one injury was reported for a civilian who suffered minor smoke inhalation and was treated and released at the scene.

Traffic was backed up for 20 miles, and some people reported sitting in their vehicles for over six hours, ENRCalifornia reported.

Responsibility, Delays to be Determined

The project is led by the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), a council of governments and a transportation planning agency for San Bernardino County.

As the County Transportation Commission, SANBAG supports freeway construction projects, road improvements, train and bus transportation, and more.

SANBAG  San Bernardino County Fire Department
Twitter / @SANBAGnews (left); San Bernardino County Fire Dept. (right)

Crews had spent nearly two months building the wooden framework and placing rebar. The fire and subsequent collapse closed all lanes of Interstate 15 for over 24 hours.

Security Paving Company of Sun Valley, CA, was awarded a $31.7 million contract for the majority of the project's construction.

For the past six to eight weeks, crews had focused on constructing the wood framework and placing rebar. Now, all of that work is a complete loss, Tim Watkins from SANBAG told the Los Angeles Times.

Construction started in January 2013 and was expected to continue through early 2015. However, SANBAG says the fire will inevitably affect the completion date. Delay estimates are yet to be determined.

"Ultimate responsibility is still being identified, but if the contractor is deemed responsible, they are required by contract to have insurance to cover any risk associated with construction," Watkins said, according to SBSun.com.

Long-Lasting Fire

First responders arrived to a well-established fire across the entire bridge project. The fire continued to burn throughout the night, and suppression efforts were hampered at several points.

I-15 interchange project
Twitter / @SANBAGnews

Firefighters were hampered by gusting wind, falling debris, and limited access to fire hydrants.

Crews were unable to fight the fire from underneath the structure because of falling debris and ongoing collapses. Constant wind gusts of 25 to 35 miles per hour kept hose streams from penetrating the bridge and contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.

Due to its location on the interstate, access to fire hydrants was limited and six water tenders were brought on site to support the large volume of water being used, the fire department said. 

Parts of the structure that hadn't already collapsed had to be demolished. That required efforts by several agencies, including Security Paving, Caltrans and the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Crews then spent hours cleaning up steel and burnt wood debris from the highway before reopening all lanes of traffic Tuesday (May 6) evening.

bridge fire
Twitter / @SANBAGnews

"Ultimate responsibility is still being identified, but if the contractor is deemed responsible they are required by contract to have insurance to cover any risk associated with construction," a SANBAG spokesman said.

Emergency paving was completed overnight Wednesday (May 7), according to SANBAG's Twitter account.

'Devastating' News

Rep. Paul Cook (R-Apple Valley) issued a statement Tuesday applauding the firefighters, police and other first responders.

"The news coming from Hesperia is devastating. I learned of the bridge fire late last night and have remained in contact with local officials in the High Desert," Cook said. "I'll be working with local officials to restart this project as soon as possible."

Multiple Funding Sources

The project also includes utility relocations, flood control improvements, traffic signal and ramp metering, grading, drainage modifications, signing and striping, traffic handling, and replacement planting.

Funding for the work comes from a combination of federal, state and local resources, including Measure I, the half-cent transportation sales tax approved by county voters in 1989.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Fire; Rebar; Roads/Highways; Welding; Wood

Comment from Karen Fischer, (5/12/2014, 9:54 AM)

“Blowtorches” being used to cut rebar? Don’t they have chop saws in California? Isn't there a perpetual danger of fire in California from the dry conditions and winds that kick up? Someone wasn't thinking!


Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/13/2014, 10:44 AM)

I'm not justifying the actions here, but depending on the size of the rebar and what else was taking place, cutting rebar with a torch isn't that uncommon...though less likely in the bridge jobs I've been on. Both actions can spark a fire in dry conditions(i.e. sparks from the cut-of wheel or slag from the torch cut). Regardless, I agree...someone "oopsed" on this one, especially with the conditions there.


Comment from Karen Fischer, (5/14/2014, 9:16 AM)

Cutting of rebar should be a very rare occurrence on any project if the rebar design was properly planned. Rebar is generally ordered to the correct size, length and bend for the job (bar list). Not sure if they do anything different in California but here in the NE, everything arrives from the bar mill already to the correct size and bend. The only cutting that would be necessary is if you are tying into an existing section of reinforced concrete and must custom cut the bar to fit. This job in California is a new build.


Comment from David Lashchuk, (5/14/2014, 11:12 AM)

A delay? A SANBAG SANDBAG? Did nobody else catch the irony?


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