A historic bridge in southeast Iowa burned Sunday, leaving only charred remains of its wood deck behind, and fire officials believe it was arson.
Kalona Fire Chief Steve Yotty told KCRG that his department was called to the Bunker Mill Bridge around 5:30 a.m. The flames had spread out of control by the time firefighters arrived on the rural road just south of town.
Troy McMurray, who lives just around the corner from the bridge, said it had been a big part of his and his girlfriend's wedding plans.
"We were talking that we'd really like to get married on the bridge, so hopefully they'll fix it and we can still make that happen," McMurray said.
Longtime Kalona residents Paula and Robert Hartley said they have fond memories of spending time with their children at the bridge before it was shut down to vehicle traffic.
"We used to come out here and they'd fish off the bridge and the kids would play on the bridge. I mean, they were raised here," Paula Hartley said. "I'm really sad to see this go like this. It should have been preserved."
The Bunker Mill, or Old River Bridge, was built in 1887, according to the Washington County Historical Society. For years the bridge, which crosses over the English River, was the only way to travel between Kalona and nearby Richmond.
McMurray said he had found evidence of people setting campfires on the bridge deck.
"I've come out two times and found spots where the bridge had been recently burned, on the bridge itself," he said.
But Yotty doubts the burning of the bridge this time was an accident.
"I don't think a campfire caused this fire," he said. "This would have taken a pretty big campfire."
He said there were plans to restore the bridge, and the city was working on a bike and walking trail from Kalona to Richmond that would have used the bridge. "And that's not going to be possible," the fire chief said.
Yotty is asking anyone with information about the bridge burning to call the department or the state fire marshal.