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Historic northern Minnesota bridge burns; cause of fire under investigation

BLACKDUCK, Minn. -- A 113-year-old bridge believed to be the longest trestle bridge still standing in Minnesota was severely damaged by a fire early Monday morning.

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A 113-year-old bridge in Blackduck, Minn., believed to be the longest trestle bridge still standing in Minnesota was severely damaged by a fire early Monday morning. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BLACKDUCK, Minn. -- A 113-year-old bridge believed to be the longest trestle bridge still standing in Minnesota was severely damaged by a fire early Monday morning.

About 200 feet of the 701-foot-long former railroad trestle bridge burned early Monday morning, said Troy Gabrelcik, Blackduck fire chief. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the state fire marshal.

The bridge spanned Coburn Creek in Blackduck, just blocks from downtown. The heavily used bridge -- now part of the Blue Ox Trail -- was frequently used by snowmobilers, four-wheelers and hikers.

“It’s going to be severely missed,” Gabrelcik said.

The fire was reported at about 5:15 a.m. and 23 Blackduck firefighters responded the scene, finding the bridge engulfed, Gabrelcik said. It took firefighters about an hour and a half to extinguish the flames.

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“It was windy, but actually the wind was coming out of the right direction, because it was coming out of the west, the northwest, coming across the trail; if it would have been coming like it was (later in the day), we wouldn’t have been able to do it, because it would have been coming right down the trail,” he said. “We would not have been able to gain access to it.”

Firefighters were able to attack the flames from both sides, containing the fire to the bridge and preventing any spread to neighboring forest growth. No one was injured.

The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “Minnesota and International Railway Trestle at Blackduck.” M&I was a subsidiary of Northern Pacific that provided a rail link between Bemidji and Koochiching, which is now International Falls, according to the National Register.

“The land in this region of north central Minnesota is dense pine forest punctuated with terrain comprised of swamp and marshland. The marshland proved difficult to traverse and required the erection of timber trestles to span the otherwise impassable sinkholes frequently encountered on the route,” the Register states. “The M&I Railway Trestle at Blackduck is historically significant for its method of construction and the considerable length required to span Coburn Creek and the surrounding marsh. It is the longest structure on the former M&I and is widely recognized as the most difficult bridge the railroad had to build.”

The bridge was constructed between 1901-1902 by veteran bridge builder Frank O'Brien, according to the Register application. The Minnesota Department of Transportation took ownership of the bridge in 1992, after the railroad ceased operation, and the bridge was converted to for pedestrians and recreational vehicles as part of the Blue Ox Trail.

Christina Regas, Blackduck city administrator, said that from what she has read, the bridge was the longest trestle bridge still standing in Minnesota.

The communications office at the Minnesota Department of Transportation in St. Paul said the state bridge inventory does not track pier design type, so it was unable to confirm whether it was the longest trestle bridge.

“Just looking at it, it seems like one of the longer railroad bridges … as far as a trestle bridge, especially a wooden one, I seriously doubt there are any longer existing ones,” said Reid Baumann, public affairs coordinator for MnDOT District 2 and a historian by training. “I’m pretty familiar with this type of thing around the state and I’ve never seen one that is that long.”

Related Topics: FIRES
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