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Construction Fire Shuts Down DE Bridge

Friday, June 9, 2017

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A major bridge over the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware was shut down for a time Wednesday morning (June 7) after a fire that was reportedly sparked by a welder’s torch.

The fire on the Delaware Memorial Bridge began around 10 a.m., according to, and both spans were shut down for close to an hour. The span heading from Delaware to New Jersey opened back up by 11 a.m., but the Delaware-bound span remained closed for about four more hours as engineers confirmed its structural integrity.

Sparked by Work

A Delaware River and Bay Authority representative told local media that sparks from a welder’s torch appeared to have ignited construction materials that were under the bridge on the Delaware side. Photos from the scene show the blaze near a concrete pier, which is blackened from the flames and smoke.

DRBA's Jim Salmon told PaintSquare News that contractor J.D. Eckman, of Atglen, Pennsylvania, was performing steel welding work on the Delaware-bound span when the fire occurred. He said the Authority is still investigating, and declined to comment on whether the contractor might face fines stemming from the incident.

And Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesperson confirms that the agency is investigating the incident as well.

According to OSHA's enforcement database, J.D. Eckman has faced 11 violations totaling more than $50,000 in fines over the past five years.

Cable work
Images: Delaware River and Bay Authority

Work being performed on the bridge in 2017 includes the continuation of a yearslong cable preservation project.

According to DRBA documentation, work being performed on the bridge this year includes: cable preservation; the repair, sealing and coating of concrete piers that are cracking and spalling; the replacement of pin and link assemblies on the suspended span trusses; the repair of concrete anchorages; and miscellaneous structural steel repairs, painting, and deck and pavement repairs.

The bridge is also currently undergoing the replacement of lighting fixtures with high-efficiency LED lights.

About the Bridge

According to officials, more than 80,000 vehicles cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge’s twin spans daily. The first of the two spans was opened in 1951; the second opened in 1968 after traffic proved to be too great for one bridge. The spans are both 3,650 feet long, with 2,150-foot main spans.

Delaware Memorial Bridge

More than 80,000 vehicles cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge’s twin spans daily.

The bridge will be getting a new ship collision protection system in the coming years; DRBA has allocated more than $1 million for risk assessment and planning for that project this year. The Authority is also replacing 272 suspension ropes on the bridge over the next five years.

Hot Work Danger

Recent history shows that the result of the fire could have been much worse: A tarp fire sparked by hot work on Pittsburgh’s Liberty Bridge shut down that major span for 24 days.

The contractor on that job, Joseph B. Fay Co., was assessed $3 million in fines from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation over the incident. OSHA levied $11,224 in proposed fines related to that fire; the fines were later reduced to $7,500 as part of an informal settlement.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Fire; Health & Safety; North America

Comment from peter lindsey, (6/9/2017, 8:08 AM)

Looks like a fire watch under the bridge during hot work is in order to stop or lessen the damage and cost of these fires.

Comment from William Feliciano, (6/9/2017, 2:37 PM)

A walk-around of the worksite by the local fire dept to assess access and response time should such a fire (due to hot work, etc) occur would probably be a good idea and might just save a bridge.

Comment from Jim Bridgeman, (6/13/2017, 11:50 PM)

Here is an idea, don't store or allow combustibles under bridges. Consider what happened in Pittsburgh (Liberty Bridge), Atlanta (I-85 bridge/overpass). There are other examples. Agencies responsible for bridges, insurers, fire fighters, people working on the bridge and people who would like to drive over the bridge have an interest in this.

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