I-15 In Hesperia Closes After Bridge Fire, Collapse - KMSP-TV

I-15 In Hesperia Closes After Bridge Fire, Collapse

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First the NB 15 at Ranchero Road was supposed to open up at 4pm. That was changed that to 6pm. But, in reality officials were able to reopen the busy freeway at 5:15pm. This after what one CalTrans official called the "worst bridge fire" he had ever seen.

Now, they say, all of the focus is on the SB lanes which are expected to reopen at 7am Wednesday.

(FOX 11 / AP) Interstate 15 in Hesperia is expected to remain closed in both directions for up to two days after a fire was accidentally ignited by a worker at a bridge construction site Monday.

The freeway - Southern California's main connector to Las Vegas - was closed around 1:30 p.m. because of falling debris.

Officials said drivers should stay away from the Cajon Pass, which is just south of the area of Interstate 15 closed by the fire. Traffic was backed up 6 miles to the south and up to 20 miles to the north Monday evening.

The blaze was started when a construction worker's blowtorch accidentally ignited the wooden supports of the Ranchero Road overpass bridge, said San Bernardino County Fire Capt. Josh Wilkins.

Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze in windy conditions, with limited access to water, and high danger that the wooden skeleton of the football-field-sized bridge would collapse.

By Monday night most flames were out aside from some smoldering; firefighters were expected to remain throughout the night, said Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga.

Caltrans crews worked into the evening demolishing remnants of the wooden skeleton of the bridge, which had been under construction since early 2013, Kasinga said.

When the fire erupted, Caltrans contractors were still working on top of the bridge and unaware of the blaze until being evacuated by firefighters because the flames were being pushed away by the wind. One worker suffered smoke inhalation, Wilkins said.

"The Cajon Pass is going to be a nightmare for the next 24 to 48 hours at least," Wilkins said. "So if at all possible, avoid it altogether, because there is just no way they're going to open it any time soon."

Kasinga recommended drivers use alternate routes including interstates 138 and 18.

Don't Burn Your Bridges

By Gigi Graciette

As the old saying goes "don't burn your bridges". And today we can add "...especially if they cost $60 million dollars, took a year to build, and span a major freeway". 

I think there's an old saying about using blowtorches outside on a windy day, but I digress.

As I write this, half of the Ranchero Road bridge over the I-15 Freeway in Hesperia has already been torn down. Amazing, if you consider it took a year to build.

Not much is left of the $59 million project that was almost finished when it caught fire Monday afternoon.

Officials with the San Bernardino County Fire Department believe the fire started as a result of a worker cutting rebar with a blowtorch. With wind gusts of 35 mph fanning the flames, once it started burning, it was hard to stop. And with debris raining down on them from the collapsing bridge, it was too dangerous for firefighters to be under or on top of the bridge.

Those same wind gusts fanning the flames were also blowing the water firefighters were trying to get on the fire in the opposite direction.

An aerial water drop was out of the question because the weight of the water would've caused the entire bridge to collapse immediately, say officials.

If all goes according to plan, the northbound lanes of the 15 freeway will reopen by late this afternoon.

Southbound lanes won't reopen until tomorrow at the very earliest, say officials. 

As for the bridge, it will have to be rebuilt almost from scratch, we're told. 

Now what was that saying about money going up in smoke?

From Hal Eisner:

To many who live or travel in the area what happened around 1:30pm was unbelievable. For a year and a half they've been watching the Rancho Road Bridge going up over the I-15 at Hesperia. For those who travel the 405 it is similar to construction of the Sunset or Skirball bridges. They had gotten the wood falsework up and, on Thursday, were scheduled to pour concrete. But, as they worked on reebar, a construction worker's torch was picked up by the high winds in the area and set the bridge on fire.

The daylong firefight was tough because flames were in areas that were hard to get to under the bridge and there was danger of a collapse. There were two collapses. No one got hurt. Earlier in the day one construction worker was treated at the scene for smoke.

This bridge was just one part of a 59 million dollar project to improve transportation in the area. It includes two new on and off ramps. All four of those ramps are open and, as it turned out, because a detour route for commuters who, in many cases were stuck in traffic for as much as 4 to 5 hours.

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