15 Fwy Lanes Reopen After Bridge Collapse, Fire

The fire was accidentally started by a construction worker’s blowtorch. Investigators said that high winds hampered firefighters’ efforts to stop the flames.

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    Workers at the scene of yesterday’s bridge fire in Hesperia were working around the clock to clear the scorched I-15 Freeway of debris and alleviate the traffic nightmare in the high desert. Tony Shin reports from Hesperia for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.

    Officials reopened lanes on the southbound 15 Freeway in the Mojave Desert early Wednesday morning after part of an overpass bridge collapsed a day after it burned in a fire sparked during construction work. 

    The bridge's wooden supports caught fire Monday, closing a portion of the freeway and stopping traffic for hours. Miles-long delays were reported Tuesday.

    The northbound 15 Freeway lanes had reopened Tuesday evening.

    Northbound lanes reopened by 5:20 p.m. Tuesday, and southbound lanes reopened around 1 a.m. Wednesday, seven hours earlier than the expected 8 a.m. reopening.

    Both directions of the 15 Freeway near Ranchero Road were closed due to the fire that sent debris falling on the freeway below. A large middle portion of the bridge completely collapsed early Tuesday morning as fire continued to burn parts of the bridge that firefighters cannot access.

    Traffic was backed up about 20 miles Monday and many drivers reported spending hours in gridlock.

    "It's so bad that we actually had to put a movie on to entertain ourselves," driver Lena Razzo said Monday night.

    The under-construction Ranchero Bridge in Hesperia caught fire around 1:30 p.m. Monday and continued to burn more than 16 hours later. The mddle portion of the bridge completely collapsed just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

    "Collapse was pretty scary, we actually had a firefighter standing on the ledge and the footing came from underneath him and he actually had to dive for his safety," San Bernardino Co. Fire Capt. Al Franco said of the Monday partial bridge collapse.

    Workers continued to tear down the bridge early Tuesday while letting the fire burn out.

    Traffic was being diverted to the north and south using on and off ramps near the Ranchero Road Bridge.

    The fire was accidentally started by a construction worker’s blowtorch, officials said. Workers tried to put it out, but it quickly spread. Investigators said that high winds hampered firefighters’ efforts to stop the flames.

    "We had to run out there pretty quick. And all that rebar on the ground, made it hard to get out of there," one construction workers said.

    The bridge was part of a $27 million underpass project. It had been under construction for about a year and a half, and was supposed to be complete next summer.

    Hesperia’s City Manager said Monday’s fire is sad news for nearby residents who had lobbied hard for the bridge.

    "And the sad part here is that (workers) were way ahead of schedule," City Manager Mike Podegracz said.

    The freeway is Southern California's main connector to Las Vegas.

    NBC4's Tony Shin contributed to this report.