The Athens Police Department Friday charged Samuel Seth Morris, 18, of 508 Brownsferry St., in Athens, with second-degree arson and first-degree criminal mischief in connection with the fire that burned a train trestle in Athens before dawn.
Morris was booked at the police department and transferred to the Limestone County jail.
Police Chief Floyd Johnson said Officer Jeremy Beavers responded after the police department received a call about 3 a.m. about a possible brush fire behind The Boat House on South Jefferson Street. When Beavers arrived, Johnson said, he saw the CSX train trestle was on fire and located three people leaving the area.
All three were interviewed and Investigator Chris Slaton arrested Morris.
As of Friday afternoon, CSX authorized trains to use the trestle but they must travel across it at about 10 mph. Johnson said area residents accustomed to traveling streets with railroad tracks should anticipate some increased delay times because of the slowed train speeds.
Athens Fire and Rescue Fire Prevention Chief Tony Kirk said CSX officials anticipate having to eventually rebuild the trestle. It is unknown when that work will start, but when it does, Kirk said the trains will have to be diverted away from Athens.
CSX officials will remain on scene throughout the night, and fire equipment is at the scene should the trestle rekindle.
Athens Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Thornton said the train’s engineer could not stop when the train reached the fire on the trestle over Swan Creek to the east of Jefferson Street and behind The Boat House.
“He (the engineer) called the fire in, and a witness called the fire in,” Thornton said. “The trestle was fully engulfed from end to end when firefighters arrived.”
Fire Prevention Chief Tony Kirk estimated the trestle is about 100 feet wide and 20 feet high. CSX officials said the trestle was built around 1972.
Before noon, CSX engineers were testing the trestle’s strength by letting a train ride over it.
About 20 firefighters fought the blaze. They had to run lines through rough vegetation and muddy embankments to reach the trestle. Firefighters began using foam around 7 a.m. to smother hot spots.
The Athens Fire Department, Alabama state Fire Marshall’s Office and CSX officials worked together, Johnson said, in the investigation of the incident.