St. Louis County authorities suspect arson
Flames licked the underbelly of the Pike River Bridge, built in 1940.
PIKE TOWNSHIP - The St. Louis County Sheriff's Department is now investigating an apparent arson fire that destroyed the Pike River bridge along the West Saari Road in Pike Township on Thursday.
Officers investigating the blaze found traces of accelerant at the origin of the fire. Anyone with information about the fire is encouraged to call 911.
The fire was first reported to authorities about 2:30 p.m. and the fire quickly engulfed the wooden bridge, which was heavily treated with creosote. Crews from the Embarrass Region Volunteer Fire Department and Pike-Sandy-Britt Fire Department were dispatched to the scene to battle the blaze.
Ron Parin was the first to report the fire. From his home, he spotted a large cloud of smoke rising into the air and thought it might be a fire at the home of his neighbor Virgil Saari. Parin, who lives on the opposite side of the Pike River, raced to his neighbor’s home to find the bridge on fire but drove across it to alert Saari. Parin called the authorities from Saari’s home.
Saari said the Pike-Sandy-Britt fire crew arrived about 10 minutes after the call was placed with the ERVFD close behind. The ERVFD brought their water truck to the scene to help combat the fire.
Sheriff’s deputies had blocked West Saari Road at Highway 135 and were limiting access to local residents only so as not to compromise their investigation of what they deemed “a suspicious fire.”
The bridge was built over a smaller, less sturdy bridge in 1940, according to Saari, who questioned whether the county would replace it.
“Losing the bridge won’t create a hardship for too many people except the mailman and me,” said Saari, who owns property on both sides of the river.
But others say the bridge has a strong sentimental value and was a beautiful addition to the area.
“It was a beautiful old bridge,” said Mickey White of Embarrass. “It’s just sad.”
The St. Louis County Public Works Department is currently looking into options for the bridge, but with other flood-related road closures, they say the bridge is a lower priority. The bridge is 152 feet long, which makes replacement costs very high, possibly reaching three quarters of a million dollars. At a minimum, the county said, the bridge will be closed for a year, though permanent closure is an option. As with other structures, the determination will be made with appropriate public input.