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Small Fire Closes San Diego’s Laurel Street Bridge

The Laurel Street bridge is the western entrance to San Diego's Balboa Park.

Above: The Laurel Street bridge is the western entrance to San Diego's Balboa Park.

A worker helping retrofit the century-old Cabrillo Bridge on Wednesday accidentally set old wooden framing ablaze inside the municipal landmark, prompting an hours-long closure of the main western entrance to Balboa Park. The fire was reported to be out at 3:25 p.m.

The laborer, part of a private crew hired by Caltrans, was sawing through concrete about 40 feet below the top of the span over state Route 163 shortly after 11 a.m. when his power saw hit rebar, causing sparks that ignited the non-injury blaze, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

The workers evacuated the structure, and authorities blocked off the stretch of El Prado that runs on top of the edifice while firefighters prepared to lower themselves into its interior to subdue the smoldering blaze, SDFRD spokesman Maurice Luque said.

The closure was expected to last at least into the early evening, police advised.

Crews have been reinforcing the edifice in recent weeks as part of a long-term project to improve its ability to withstand seismic activity.

It was the second time in less than a decade that a fire shut down the the 405-foot bridge. In June 2004, firefighters had to cut holes in the venerable structure to extinguish a stubborn blaze that also broke out amid a retrofitting project.

The towering east-west span north of downtown San Diego was built between 1912 and 1914 as part of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915-16 at Balboa Park. On April 12, 1914, future President Franklin Roosevelt drove the first automobile across it while serving as secretary of the Navy.

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