Colorado family feels remorse for Dewey Bridge fire
December 5, 2008
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. ” The father of the boy responsible for burning the historic Dewey Bridge outside of Moab, Utah said this week his son deeply regrets the incident.
“My older son mentioned Dewey Bridge a couple months ago, and he (the younger son) nearly started crying, so he’s still very much bothered by it,” said the father. “We, of course, feel terrible.”
To protect the child’s identity, the names of the family members involved in the incident are not being revealed. The family resides in Grand Junction, Colo.
The Grand County, Utah, sheriff’s department attributed the April 6 fire to the boy, then age 6. He was playing with matches when he sparked a wildfire near the Colorado River that quickly spread to the bridge.
The wooden bridge, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was virtually destroyed. The span was a familar landmark for Aspenites and other Coloradans who frequent the Moab area to take advantage of its slickrock mountain bike trails and other recreational pursuits.
No dollar value had been assigned to the bridge, which was no longer in use for vehicular traffic, but a 1996 analysis estimated the cost to restore it at $530,000.
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On the day of the fire, the family ” a couple and their two sons, ages 6 and 9 at the time, and their two dogs had been hiking in the Fisher Towers area outside of Moab. They stopped at a camping area along the river, near the bridge, to let the dogs cool off and play in the water.
The father said the boys had been skipping rocks in the river, but then grew bored.
“They were just running back and forth behind us (away from the riverbank) chasing each other,” the father said.
His wife suddenly noticed the boys were quiet. Just then, the younger boy came running out of the brush toward his father, saying he and his brother had lit a fire by rubbing sticks together.
“I could tell he was very concerned about it,” the father said.
Initially, the father thought his son was playing an April Fool’s Day joke on him.
“He said no,” the father said. “We could tell how concerned he was. I could see the expression on his face.”
By the time the father reached the fire, it had rapidly climbed into tamarisk and oak brush.
“I didn’t have anything to stop the fire. It was so dry and windy, I couldn’t get it out,” the father said.
As he and his wife summoned help, the boy “sat in the car for much of the time, which is really not like him,” the father said. “He probably felt a little sick out there watching the fire and not able to do anything about it.”
Authorities later concluded the younger boy was lighting matches from a book of matches he found at the campground when the blaze started.
On the day the bridge burned, a Bureau of Land Management employee suggested the family’s homeowner’s insurance could cover any costs associated with the fire.
“When the BLM ranger first came up to us, he said ‘your homeowner’s insurance might cover this,'” the father said. “I’m hoping that is the case, no matter what the charges are.
“Since we weren’t sure what the financial debt would be or the circumstances, I have not yet checked into it,” the father said.
The father said he hasn’t spoken with local, state, or federal authorities about costs or responsibility.
This week, the BLM’s state fire trespass coordinator, Deb Hamill, said the agency’s investigation is ongoing.
Hamill said the incident is “under litigation,” though no civil lawsuit has been filed. “We’re still waiting for information. We can’t determine which way we’re going to go with it.
“We’re still waiting for some documentation to come in,” Hamill said.
The father said it’s been a month since he’s talked with the BLM or representatives of the state of Utah regarding the investigation. During that most recent contact, he was informed of a change in staff at the BLM’s Moab office.
“Nothing’s been decided,” the father said.
Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland said Wednesday the boy shouldn’t face charges for the incident.
“He wasn’t trying to start a fire. He was just down playing with matches,” Nyland said. “We’ve got to be able to prove criminal intent, and there wasn’t any.”
“It wasn’t malicious,” the father said. “He’s a really good kid. Teachers think he’s a good kid.”
“[He] is the kind of kid … the last one in their class they think of that would start a fire,” the father said of the youngster’s teachers.
But, the Grand County sheriff’s report indicated the Dewey Bridge fire was the third incident of the boy lighting a fire. The first was inside his home, when he lit a paper towel on fire on a tile floor, and the second was inside a fire ring in the family’s back yard, “where we occasionally have fires,” the father said.
Grand County owned the Dewey Bridge, and insurance did not cover the cost of rebuilding it, according to Grand County Administrator Shawn Warnke.
The Grand County Historic Commission is in charge of overseeing the effort to research reconstructing the bridge.
So far, only $1,000 has been raised to study of the feasibility of rebuilding the span, Warnke said.
“There was a lot of interest expressed initially. I think that’s kind of waned,” Warnke said. “Not a lot of resources have ever materialized.”