Both roads into the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park may be closed all summer because of a fatal car wreck that set fire to the wooden approach to a bridge, officials said.
An autopsy was planned Thursday, but it could take weeks to confirm the identity of the severely burned motorist, investigators in the Pierce County medical examiner’s office.
The charred vehicle was registered to Arthur McCarthy, 93, of Puyallup, the Washington State Patrol said. McCarthy is missing.
The car apparently struck a utility pole Tuesday night on Washington 165 south of this Pierce County town, setting the approach afire when the hot wires hit the wooden surface.
Firefighters tried to fight the blaze in the creosote-soaked timbers but had to retreat as the structure weakened.
About 150 feet of trestle burned, leaving the structure too weak to support motor vehicles, said Don Whitehouse, a state Transportation Department regional assistant administrator.
The steel-girder arch in the middle of the span over the Carbon River was intact, but the south end was so severely damaged that the bridge won’t be reopened to traffic before August, Whitehouse said. It is strong enough to withstand foot traffic.
The bridge, built in 1921, is historic “from an engineering standpoint,” said Ann Briggs, a department spokeswoman in Tukwila.
“It’s on the national register of historic bridges, one of a number of them we have around the state,” said Chris Keegan, a regional operations engineer for the state agency.
The 20 families in the upper Carbon River Valley will be allowed access through Plum Creek Timber Co. land, but company officials said the logging road could not handle the 160,000 people a year who normally use the highway to reach the Mowich Lake and Carbon River park entrances.
The logging road links Wilkeson with the old mining town of Fairfax, where another bridge crosses the river.
“My heart is just wrenching,” said Gail Richardson, an upper valley resident for 13 years. “It’s strange how you take something like this for granted.”