Suspected arson damages covered bridge at OU branch campus

1:08 PM, Jan 16, 2013   |    comments
Matthew Berry/Eagle-Gazette/Gannett
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LANCASTER – When Fairfield County Historical Parks Director David Fey learned a historic covered bridge on the Ohio University-Lancaster campus was set on fire Tuesday, he was outraged.

"It is owned by all of us," Fey said. "It is a part of our heritage, who we are. Anybody who could think of taking it away is an incredibly selfish person."

University and police officials are trying to find out who set the fire shortly before 6 a.m. on the John Bright No. 2 Covered Bridge, causing about $20,000 in damage.

A passer-by on the Lancaster Bike Trail attempted to put the fire out himself before reporting the fire, according to a Lancaster police report.

"The fire was set at the intersection of structural members about mid-span on the bridge. Some assessment will need to be done to determine if a main beam will need replaced. Two to four joists and areas of decking will need replaced," Lancaster Campus Dean Jim Smith said.

The bridge was built in 1881 and originally spanned Poplar Creek, near Carroll. It was relocated to the campus in 1988 for preservation.

Smith said the bridge is listed with the U.S. Parks Department on its National Register of Historic Places.

"Its disappointing," Smith said. "It offers a unique feature to the campus relative to the history of Fairfield County."

Unlike many covered bridges in other counties, Fey said the 18 covered bridges in Fairfield County feature mostly original materials.

"There is a lot of wood, and the wood is dry," Fey said. "I am surprised they didn't lose the bridge."

The extent of the damage will not be known until the bridge is inspected. A timeline for repairs has not been made.

"The fire damaged the original deck constructed in the 1800s. It is not replaceable," OU-L interim Physical Plant Director Mark Bateson said. "The fire was started underneath. Support posts underneath were damaged and there are two large holes in the deck that goes across the bridge. Until we dig into it farther, we're really not going to know how much of the underneath is damaged."

Smith said the school will provide the money to repair the damage.

The bridge is closed to the public until further notice.

At one point, more than 200 covered bridges could be found throughout the county, Fey said.

"Many have been burned down by vandals," he said.

The bridge serves as walkway during the Lancaster Festival, and Fey said it is an architectural treasure.

"The (construction) of the bridge is not very common," Fey said. "There is no other like it in the county."

Francesca Sacco/Gannett/Lancaster-Eagle Gazette

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