KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- A stretch of one of Kansas City’s major highways remained shut down for hours Thursday following a deadly fire underneath a bridge.
Firefighters discovered human remains Thursday morning after extinguishing a fire at a homeless encampment near I-70 and Truman Road.
A spokesperson for the City of Kansas City, Missouri said: “The City is saddened to hear about the tragic loss of life in the underpass fire. Deepest sympathies are extended to family and friends of the deceased.”
Kansas City firefighters responded around 6 a.m. to a large a large structure on fire under the bridge. Around 7 a.m., firefighters called Kansas City police to the scene to investigate. Foul play was not immediately suspected.
The stretch of highway westbound above the location of the fire was shut down until further notice. MoDOT inspectors spent much of the day Thursday assessing potential damage to the bridge to determine what repairs are needed.
“We are checking the structural integrity of the bridge. Checking damage to girders, to the connections between the girders. Those critical components,” MoDOT Kansas City District Office Assistant District Engineer Matt Killion said.
Fires at encampments have previously caused structural damage to a bridge in Kansas City. In 2015, a fire under the Beardsley Road Bridge damaged concrete and bent two bridge girders. It cost $400,000 to repair.
A second fire at the same bridge in 2018 cost $2 million to repair. The second fire caused significant damage to the concrete piers and bent five bridge girders.
More information about potential repairs to the bridge near Truman Road and I-70 is expected Friday after crews can complete a full assessment.
“Certainly we understand the impacts of closing I-70 near downtown,” Killion said. “We really want to make sure the bridge is safe for all travelers. That’s our number one priority.”
To avoid traffic congestion caused by Thursday’s I-70 closure, anyone driving westbound traveling out of Missouri should exit I-70 at the I-435 interchange at Mile Marker 8 to get around the closure. Local drivers can travel westbound on I-70 as far as the 18th Street exit to access area neighborhoods.
A spokesperson for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, sent a written statement following the fire that said, “Addressing housing insecurity and providing resources to the houseless community remains a top priority for the city.”
Full Statement from spokesperson for the City of Kansas City, Missouri:
“The City is saddened to hear about the tragic loss of life in the underpass fire. Deepest sympathies are extended to family and friends of the deceased.
Addressing housing insecurity and providing resources to the houseless community remains a top priority for the City. The City’s Housing and Community Services Department has programs to help those who are experiencing homelessness; this list of partner agencies can also provide immediate assistance.
The City's much more proactive and supportive encampment policy under development is nearing completion, currently stakeholders and councilmembers are providing feedback prior to finalization. The City’s goal is to provide services to the unhoused community before, during, and after their move to safer and healthier environments, which includes contact by outreach teams, free transportation to shelter or housing, and free storage and transportation of personal belongings. This policy is a collaborative effort led by the Mayor’s Houseless Task Force, chaired by Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, with the Coalition to End Homelessness and other partner service providers.
The City's new Extreme Weather Plan also better coordinates existing services and support systems and ensures everyone in Kansas City has a warm, safe, dry place to sleep at night particularly during cold weather.
For any residents who may be moved to offer assistance, there are ways to help financially and/or donate personal supplies for houseless residents.”
Statement from spokesperson for Free Hot Soup KC:
“At this point, I think our members feel like a broken record. People only care when it’s newsworthy, meanwhile this is literally a souper’s worst nightmare. The city complains about the millions wasted on repairing infrastructure, due to the actions of one person. But they aren’t willing to invest millions into creating truly affordable, dignified living options that would provide safe shelter for a hundred people.”