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KEENE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Authorities will be in Ionia County Monday to continue their investigation, a day after the 146-year-old White's Bridge burned down.
The Ionia County Sheriff's Department is calling this an arson case.
The bridge was located on Whites Bridge Road north of Richmond Road in Keene Township and crossed the Flat River.
Belding Fire Chief Gregg Moore said the fire was first reported by a newspaper carrier around 5 a.m. Sunday.
"There were still flames. Very small flames," he said.
By the time fire crews arrived at the scene, the entire bridge had already burned through and collapsed into the river.
Moore said Sunday there is no doubt the fire is suspicious.
After all, until now the bridge has weathered just about everything in nearly 150 years. Built in 1867, according to its registered historic site marker, it was the oldest covered bridge still in use in Michigan. The marker says the bridge had hand-hewn trusses covered with rough pine boards, held together with wooden pegs and hand-cut , square, iron nails.
A few years ago, a drunk driver caused major damage when he crashed into the bridge, officials said.
It was a popular launching point for canoes and kayak. And it was a convenient local crossover from Lowell to the M-21 corridor.
Chief Moore called in the state fire marshal to investigate the fire. Both will inspect the damage Monday morning. He said investigators will look at all potential causes, including fireworks and someone with a possible ax to grind.
There are not yet any suspects.
"I think it's a tragedy if they did this on purpose," resident Tim Daily said.
Dozens of people went to see the remains of the bridge Sunday.
"It's devastating. It kind of breaks your heart that somebody has stole something from the community. Not from you personally, but from the community," resident Mark Rosenberger said.
Pete Odland's mailbox was in the bridge for 22 years.
"If it could talk, the stories it could tell, you know?" he said.
His uncle owned the property for 50 years before him.
"There was a carving in the bridge of a guy that he remembered. Charlie Compton. It said 1893. It was carved in and I often would walk and look at that," Odland said.
Odland even wrote a poem to the bridge years ago.
"We can rebuild a replica, but we cannot rebuild White's Covered Bridge. It's just gone forever," Odland said.
Anyone with information about the arson is asked to call the Ionia County Sheriff's Department at 616.527.5737.
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