Sparks from an electrical device being used to mix paint and paint thinner beneath the A. Piatt Andrew bridge are being blamed for a fire that shut down the Route 128 bridge into and out of Gloucester for more than an hour today, snarling traffic throughout Cape Ann.
Gloucester firefighters and other emergency crews knocked down what had been described as a "major fire" beneath the bridge, and safety crews have now reopened two southbound lanes and one northbound lane across the span. But state and local police grappled throughout the afternoon and early evening with a monstrous traffic tangle that began shortly after the fire broke out around 3:45 p.m.
At one point, the fire and its aftermath triggered a shutdown of Grant Circle. That left no access out of Gloucester through the circle, while, on Route 128, all northbound traffic headed toward the bridge and the city was ordered off the highway and onto Essex Avenue at Exit 14.
Grant Circle was reopened and cleared around 5:30. But traffic along Essex Avenue (Route 133) remains clogged as of 7 p.m., and the line of northbound traffic along Route 128 remained backed up to Exit 14 even three hours after the fire.
There have been no reports of injuries. The bridge is still undergoing extensive renovation and reconstruction work as part of a three-year, $25 million Mass. Department of Transportation project.
Gloucester fire officials said tonight it appears the fire started when sparks from an electric device being used by a construction crew to mix paint and paint thinner dropped into the thinner and caused it to burst into flames. The bridge itself was apparently not damaged, fire officials said, but portions of a tarp and a wooden scaffolding used by the work crews were damaegd by the blaze.
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