Arson suspected in Wednesday rail trail fire

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September 1, 2011 - 12:00 AM

The latest in a series of fires of what appear to be arson, damaged a bridge on the Prairie Spirit Trail at the north edge of Iola, about two blocks south of Oregon Road, Wednesday evening.
Railings on either side were burned enough that they will need replacing and support beams under the deck also burned for a time, but maybe not enough that the bridge will have to be replaced all together.
“I hope we don’t have to replace the bridge,” said Cory Schinstock, assistant city administrator. “I have no idea what that would cost.”
The underpinnings are part of the old Santa Fe Railroad trestle, Schinstock said.
Iola is responsible for maintenance of the trail inside the city limit, although the trail is property of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. That deal was made to permit Iolans to use the trail for free in town.
Walkers on Oregon Road and a 9-year-old boy saw the smoke and flames and called 911 on Wednesday. Firefighters were dispatched at 8:22 p.m.
“My son (the 9-year-old) was riding his bike home,” in the Cedarbrook Addition, “when he saw the flames,” said Lindsey Crites of her son, Michael.
A friend’s home was nearer so he sped there and called 911.
“He wrecked his bike on the way, but got right back up and kept going,” said Crites.
“When we got there flames were 20 feet in the air,” said Fire Lt. Ron Jenkins. “The fire was all across the bridge and underneath. There are some big beams under there and they were on fire.”
While cause of the fire has not been officially determined, it would appear that something was used to cause the flames to be so consuming.
“It wasn’t spontaneous combustion,” Jenkins said.

ALLEN COUNTY Sheriff Tom Williams couldn’t say categorically that the trail bridge fire was related to the rash of fires that have burned hay, pasture grass and an abandoned house in the north part of the county the past few weeks.
“But,” he said, “you’d think it was probably was.”
Others occurred during “broad daylight and in easily visible areas,” Williams said, with the timing being about the only difference. This fire started at dusk and wasn’t completely extinguished until shortly after 11 p.m.
“My guys followed up on several leads Wednesday and we’re working to find who is responsible,” Williams added. “It’s been frustrating, the fires happening in the daytime and in places where, in some cases, you can see for two miles.”
He encouraged anyone who saw anything, including vehicles or people, who they thought was suspicious to call his office, 365-1400, or 911.

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