By Patricia Minichiello
@vtpresspass

CORNWALL – Isabel Lower pulled over at the sight of smoke coming from the other end of an historic covered bridge on the Cornwall-Salisbury town line Saturday.

She decided to call 911 rather than risk driving over it, even though only a “wisp of smoke” was visible.

That phone call at 2:30 p.m. lasted 60 seconds.When she hung up, the bridge burst into flames.

She knows the call only took 60 seconds because she checked her cellphone history later.

“That was definitely the right call to make, to not keep going through,” she said Monday.

Lower said the day of the fire, she was driving her two friends to her parents home in Salisbury. The group decided to take Swamp Road instead of going through Middlebury.

“That was a split-second decision to take the scenic route,” with friends from Sarasota, Florida, Tyler Caswell and Erica Elliott, in the car.

“When we first got there it was a little wisp of smoke. Then we actually saw a little flame starting on the other side. It just happened very quickly.”

“We were all saying to each other, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.'”

Caswell said the fire took his breath away; “To see something so historic go up in flames this fast because it is something you never think you would see in your lifetime.”

The heat from the flames was intense, Lower said, too hot to even stand near the boat launch to take photos.

Lower said she was particularly saddened by the fire, because of a bat colony living under the bridge and she feared none of them made it out alive.

“We saw a bat fly out (during the fire); fly to road and die.”

Vermont Fish & Wildlife Biologist Alyssa Bennett, who specializes in bats, said they are very concerned about the potential loss of bats, already endangered in the state. She said her team is making plans now to go out the site and investigate.

“We had been monitoring this site closely since 2006. Every year since 2011 we had volunteers to count bats as they exited the bat house.”

This past June, Bennett said volunteers counted a total of 181 brown bats living in the bridge, which she referred to as their primary location.

All 181 bats were endangered female brown bats and their pups, she said.

“It’s what we call a maternity colony. The females get together and raise their pups together. Each only has one pup per summer, (so if they were to all die) it’s a pretty big impact to their population,” she said. “They were already a species in trouble.”

Bennett does not know if there are any survivors. She said it’s difficult to tell right now, but they will know more in the coming days.

“What I can say is that fire happened during the day and bats are sleeping during the day. Just like a house fire that happens at night.”

She said officials are concerned because, “it’s a loss of their roots,” for the bats. They come back to a specific location for decades and decades.”

“I was very sad. I’ve been watching this colony very closely for a long time. This is a location with the longest known survivors of white nose syndrome in the U.S.”

The fire that engulfed Station Covered Bridge is still under investigation.

It is unclear as of Monday morning, how the fire that destroyed the 151-year-old bridge started. Detective Sgt. David Sutton did not immediately return a call for comment.

Anyone with more information or who might seen any suspicious activity on Saturday afternoon is asked to call Sutton at the Rutland State Police barracks (802) 773-9101 or the Vermont Arson Tip Award Program (VATAP) at 1-800-32-ARSON.

Patricia Minichiello is a freelance reporter and editor of vtpresspass.com. You can reach her at vtpresspass@gmail.com.