Dollar Loss From I-15/Ranchero Road Interchange Fire In Undetermined Millions

(May 8)  A significant portion of the $31.7 million worth of construction work that was to be completed on the Ranchero Road/I-15 Interchange went up in flames on May 5, when a worker using a blowtorch to cut steel reinforcing bars accidentally ignited the wooden bracing for the structure.
Efforts to douse the flames failed as in high winds fanned and spread the fire.
According to Eric Sherwin, a public information officer with the San Bernardino County Fire Department, his agency received multiple reports of the fire at the interchange construction site near the confluence of the freeway and Ranchero Road south of Highway 395 at about 1:30p.m.
“Callers stated that flames were visible on the underside of the bridge in the center divider area,” according to Sherwin. “First arriving units discovered a well-established fire that carried across the entire bridge project which spans the interstate. They also noted debris falling onto the freeway and immediately requested a full closure of the north and southbound lanes for commuter safety.
“Suppression efforts were hampered at many points during the extended attack,” Sherwin continued. “Falling debris and ongoing collapses prevented crews from fighting the fire from beneath the structure, Once personnel pulled back out of the collapse zone, constant winds of 25 mph with 35 mph gusts kept hose streams from penetrating deep into the bridge and to the seat of the fire. These same winds contributed to the quick spread as flames were pushed through the construction area much like a wildland environment. Being on the interstate, access to fire hydrants was reduced. Therefore, a number of water tenders were brought to scene to support the large volume of water being utilized to combat the blaze.”
As efforts to bring the flames under control on the afternoon of May 5 continued, eleven engines, one truck company, one patrol, six water tenders, and one hand crew totaling over 60 personnel were assigned to the incident along with multiple chief officers.
By 10 p.m. on May 5, the fire appeared to have been suppressed but some time later reignited and burned again until after 6 a.m. on May 6, at which time firefighters managed to douse it.
During the fire and in its aftermath, Interstate 15 was closed in both directions. Because of the debris covering the freeway and the efforts needed to clear it, the freeway remained closed for well over 24 hours. Both lanes were reopened at 11:45 p.m. on May 6.
According to Tim Watkins of SANBAG, San Bernardino County’s transportation agency, as of Thursday, May 8, there were neither precise nor approximate estimates of the monetary loss the fire caused. SANBAG is the lead agency on the project.
Watkins told the Sentinel on May 6 that the fire occurred after the concrete columns had been put in place but about a week before the concrete was to be poured to form the overpass superstructure.
The fire sparked when workers were using blowtorches to cut off excess steel bars where metal box cages are tied together, he said, further characterizing that action as “a normal practice in bridge construction work.”  He said that extensive inspection of the columns will need to be done to determine whether the columns can remain in place or will need to be torn down and replaced. The bridge’s false work, that is the wooden framing that held the ironwork in place prior to the pouring of the concrete, was completely destroyed in the fire as was the ironwork. Some other elements of the construction that had been completed escaped relatively unscathed, Watkins said.
“The ramps and the area leading to the abutment and the drainage system were all unaffecdted by the fire, so it was not a total loss of the construction effort,” Watkins said. “All of the false work, the timber plywood forms and the rebar steel that was in place and the steel beams were destroyed. All of the surface work will have to be redone. We have to assess whether the fire had any effect on the columns themselves, from either the heat or the falling structure. An engineering team will go in and make that assessment.”
A published report on May 8 held that the monetary damage had been tentatively pegged at “between $5 million and $6 million.” The same day, Watkins indicated that those figures had not been issued from SANBAG. “There is no way to speculate on that without the engineering assessment being done,” he said. “Yesterday [May 7] there was digging work performed on the roadway and they took steel from the columns to submit it to an analysis. The results of that will help calculate how extensive the damage was.”
Watkins said, “The loss to be determined will be based on the total impact of the fire and only partially on how much has been spent to date, since some of the completed work is salvageable. We will eventually know, going backwards from what had been completed and will need to be redone, what our losses are. I cannot tell you at this time what the cost of the recovery effort will be to get back to the stage of construction we were on Monday morning.”
Watkins said the scheduled completion of the project will now be delayed for an indeterminate time, dependent upon the engineering assessment of how much of the still standing structure will need to be torn down and rebuilt as well as the availability and delivery of materials.

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