Updated Tue, Jan 15, 2013 1:19 pm
Lancaster police and fire officials are searching for the person who set fire to a historic covered bridge on the Ohio University Lancaster campus.
According to OU-Lancaster Communications Manager Cheri Russo, a passerby on the city's bike trail smelled smoke near the John Bright Number 2 Covered Bridge Tuesday morning and called fire fighters.
"Because of where the fire was located, which was underneath the bridge, she actually didn't see the flame but she smelled the smoke and called the fire department and then they came out and from what I'm told, the firefighters weren't even sure it was on fire until they got up close and could see underneath that there was flame underneath the bridge," said Russo.
Russo says fire fighters believe the bridge had been smoldering for a couple of hours before they responded to the scene. "We're pretty lucky it wasn't worse than it is," said Russo.
Employees familiar with the bridge say it's possible the thick beams and trusses at the origin of the fire slowed the spread of the flames, in turn saving the bridge from more extensive damage, said Russo.
Damage is estimated at $20,000.
The bridge, built in 1881, originally spanned a creek near Carroll and was moved to the Lancaster campus in the late 1980s for restoration. It is listed on the US Parks Department Registry of Historic Places. It is one of two historic bridges on campus. The other is made of iron.
Russo says the bridge, which acts as a connector between Fetters Run and campus, is closed for safety reasons at this time.
The bridge also plays a big role in the annual Lancaster Music Festival since it is located near Fetters Run, where the festival takes place.
Russo says foot traffic to the festival is typically heavy on the 130-year-old bridge during the festival.
"Fetters Run is where they hold the Lancaster Festival every year so that bridge is used by Lancaster Festival goers to go out to the concerts every summer and so that's one of the big concerns that we've heard so far is 'will the bridge be repaired in time for the festival?'. With a bridge that was built in the 1800s, it's really hard for us to know what kind of repairs are going to have to go into it, but we certainly hope to have it fixed in time for festival goers to use it this summer," said Russo.
Russo says there is no timeline for bridge repairs at this time.
Another bridge is available for use while the covered bridge is closed.
The fire is being investigated as an arson.