Historic Bridge Near Kalona Burns, Officials Suspect Arson

Brady Smith, Anchor/Reporter

KALONA, Iowa - The historic Bunker Mill Bridge in Kalona burned early Sunday morning, and fire officials believe it was arson. Kalona Fire Chief Steve Yotty said his department got called to the scene around 5:30 AM on a rural road just south of town. By the time firefighters arrived, the flames had spread out of control.

Now, only charred remains of its wood deck remain, much of it still held up its iron skeleton, but there's no safe way to cross it over the English River.

Troy McMurray lives just around the corner.

"This is pretty much in my backyard," McMurray told us. He explained that the bridge had been a big part of the wedding plans for him and his girlfriend Rhonda.

"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," said McMurray, looking at what's left of the structure.

Long-time Kalona residents Paula and Robert Hartley have memories of spending time with their children here, years 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 explained. "I'm really sad to see this go like this. It should have been preserved."

The Washington County Historical Society says the Bunker Mill, or Old River Bridge, was built in 1887. For years, it was the only way to travel between Kalona and nearby Richmond.

McMurray has recently 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.

However, Yotty doesn't think this was an accident.

"I don't think a campfire caused this fire. this would have taken a pretty big camp fire," said Yotty.

Now a piece of history, along with plans for its future, are all but destroyed.

"Some people were trying to get it restored," Yotty explained. "The city was also working on a bike and walking trail from Kalona to Richmond, and were going to use that bridge, and that's not going to be possible."

Yotty is asking for anyone with knowledge that may help the investigation to call the Kalona Fire Department or the State Fire Marshal.
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