A fire late Wednesday afternoon (July 25) damaged the old Province Line Road bridge that crosses over the Stony Brook at Lawrence Township’s border with Princeton Township.
The flames ate away many of the wooden beams that formed the decking of the middle of the metal truss bridge’s three spans, leaving gaping holes through which the water below could be seen.
Although the bridge has, according to longtime neighborhood residents and veteran township police officers, been closed to vehicular traffic for over three decades, it remains a popular recreational crossing used by pedestrians and bicyclists.
For that reason, and because of the bridge’s historical designation, the Mercer County Department of Transportation and Infrastructure recently began to make repairs to make the bridge safer for foot and bike traffic, officials at the scene said.
That repair work, however, is believed to have inadvertently caused the fire.
Investigators believe that an errant spark from a worker’s torch smoldered unnoticed along the underside of the wooden decking and intensified after the county’s work crew left for the day, Lawrence Township police Sgt. Tim Drew said.
The first call about the blaze was received by Princeton Township police about 5:15 p.m. from a woman who spotted it while she was out walking her dog, according to Princeton Fire Department Chief Dan Tomalin.
Believing the blaze was in their jurisdiction, Princeton Township police officers and volunteer firefighters responded.
With smoke visible from a distance, and conflicting reports about the location of the fire and exactly what was burning, Princeton firefighters approached the bridge from both sides.
Units coming from the south, from Rosedale Road, had to first remove a barricade that had been set up in the road to keep vehicles from approaching the closed bridge. Other units accessed the north side of the bridge via Pretty Brook Road.
The middle of the bridge was engulfed in flames when emergency personnel arrived, Tomalin said.
As a precaution, Tomalin called additional volunteer firefighters to the scene from Lawrenceville Fire Co. and Hopewell Borough Fire Co. Ambulance crews from Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad also responded.
Tomalin said the bulk of the fire was extinguished in about 10 minutes, but firefighters continued to work for more than an hour to douse hot spots they uncovered by using hooks to pull up the charred decking.
It was only after the blaze was under control that Princeton officials realized the fire had actually occurred in Lawrence.
There were no injuries reported.
A PSE&G representative was called out to examine a natural gas pipeline that crosses over the Stony Brook alongside the bridge, but no damage was found, officials said.
With numerous holes in the decking from both the fire and the ongoing refurbishment, additional barricades were set up Wednesday evening to keep pedestrians from wandering onto the bridge until the county can make repairs.