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Trestle fire deemed suspicious
While the cause of a fire that damaged a nearly 125-year-old railroad trestle Thursday afternoon remains under investigation, Porterville Fire Department Capt. Mitch Sandoval says the fire appears to be suspicious.
Sandoval says there was no natural cause for the fire to start and that because the trestle has heavy foot traffic, it may have been intentionally set.
“Maybe it was set, but we haven’t got any real evidence to show that,” he said Friday.
The area has seen several fires over the last year.
“We get several types of fires there along the Tule River because it’s a heavy-traffic area,” Sandoval said. “People use it all the time; from kids to adults to transients and on Saturdays that bridge gets traveled by 50 to 100 people who are headed to the swap meet.”
Interim Fire Chief Glen Irish said one-third of the trestle, which spans the Tule River from the south side to the north side, was damaged and the rest went unscathed. The city has been in contact with the Union Pacific Railroad, that owns the property, and anticipates a representative from the UP will arrive next week to evaluate the damage, Irish said.
Firefighters arrived on scene at approximately 4:20 p.m. to find the trestle fully engulfed in flames. Irish said that from the onset of the fire until arrival of the first unit, the fire quickly grew in intensity.
“Anytime we have a fire involving that type of construction — heavy timber, an open-wood frame construction soaked with creosote — fire is going to spread and grow really fast and that’s what we saw,” he said.
The creosote, a dark-brown oil distilled from coal tar and used as a wood preservative, was largely responsible for the towering black cloud of smoke that darkened the sky.
To quickly quell the fire and the production of heat, the tactic was to get enough heavy equipment near the incident and start quenching the fire, Irish said.
“We were able to contain the fire for about one-third of the trestle,” he added.
Firefighters were on scene through the night and Friday morning and were able to keep the fire from rekindling.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.