Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson announced Monday an arrest has been made in the fire that badly damaged the old wooden Barnett Bridge in Pratts on Sept. 22.
Katelyn Hollis, 26, of 110 Bethany Road, Baldwyn, was arrested Saturday and charged with felony malicious mischief. Bond was set at $25,000 by Justice Court Judge Chuck Hopkins, and Hollis was released after bond was posted Monday.
Johnson said in a prepared release that his department and the State Fire Marshal’s Office, based on information gathered during their investigation, were able to piece together a timeline of events that revealed Hollis was at the bridge on County Road 1213 early on the morning it caught fire.
“While at the bridge she committed a malicious act that resulted in the bridge catching fire,” Johnson said in the release. “We don’t believe at this time that her intent was solely to burn the bridge, but her malicious actions caused this fire.”
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that Hollis was allegedly painting on the bridge when the fire started and did not set out to intentionally burn it, which is why she was charged only with felony malicious mischief. The Journal reported that if found guilty Hollis’ sentence will depend upon the cost to repair the damage to the bridge. She could ultimately face from five to 20 years in prison.
The Barnett Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in the county and was one of the only wooden bridges still being used. Lee County Supervisor Phil Morgan said at the time it appeared a container with a flammable material was placed on the bridge and then set on fire. As the fluid escaped it got into the cracks in the wood decking, setting the creosote on the bottom of the deck on fire. The bridge, which crosses Twenty Mile Creek, received heavy damage in at least two sections with gaping holes in the decking and severe damage to wooden stringers underneath.
No estimate has been made yet on how much the repairs will cost and the bridge will remain closed indefinitely. Morgan told The Baldwyn News that the time and cost to repair the bridge will hinge upon several factors, including on how extensive the damage is to the structure and whether a crane has to be brought in to repair the damage sections over the channel. The bridge is a 500-foot-long structure.
Firefighters with the Pratts-Friendship Fire Department and Baldwyn Fire Department were able to arrive quickly enough to prevent the bridge from being completely destroyed, and Johnson commended the departments and other volunteer firefighters who worked to put out the fire and preserve the evidence on the scene.