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Piling fire near Chicago River shuts down traffic on Lake Shore Drive bridge

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The blaze was ignited by a construction torch, according to a Fire Department spokesperson

A two-level metal bridge with a stone bridgehouse. There is a row of taller buildings behind it.
Lake Shore Drive bridge.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Clouds of smoke billowed above the mouth of the Chicago River on Monday as the Chicago Fire Department fought to extinguish a wooden piling that caught fire beneath the Lake Shore Drive Bridge. Although no injuries were reported, the flames took many hours to extinguish. The blaze started around 10:45 a.m. Monday and wasn’t under control until 3:51 p.m. that afternoon, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

The source of the fire was a construction torch being used by contractors to perform bridge repair work which ignited the waterfront piling, Chicago Fire Department spokesperson Larry Merritt tells Curbed Chicago. Despite the use of land-based crews and fireboats, the pile proved difficult to extinguish due to its flammable creosote coating, Merritt says.

Chicago officials shut down vehicular lanes on Lake Shore Drive’s lower level as well as bike and pedestrian traffic between Illinois and Monroe. The U.S. Coast Guard temporarily diverted river traffic away from the incident.

Although the fire originated near the construction site of the Navy Pier Flyover, Merritt says the work that sparked Monday’s blaze was unrelated to the ongoing project. The Chicago Department of Transportation says the incident will have no impact on the elevated bike and pedestrian path.