Fire erupts under New Jersey's Pulaski Skyway during rebuilding

NEW YORK Fri Aug 15, 2014 4:44pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Work on a project to rebuild New Jersey's crumbling Pulaski Skyway ground to a halt on Friday afternoon when a fire erupted along the supporting base of the elevated roadway that connects Jersey City and Newark, a state transportation official said.

The blaze, ignited by sparks from steel-cutting, burned along a wooden barrier that keeps floating debris away from the base of the 81-year-old structure where it crosses the Hackensack River, said Steve Schapiro, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

"Apparently some sparks fell from above and ignited dead grass within the fender system," Schapiro said.

Firefighters on boats extinguished the blaze shortly after it began, and the fire is believed to have caused no major structural damage, Schapiro said.

Still, construction work was stopped for the day while inspectors assessed the damage, Schapiro said. The roadway has been partially closed to traffic since earlier this year because of the construction work.

The 3.5-mile Skyway, featured in the opening sequence of "The Sopranos" television series, has become the subject of a multi-agency probe into the diversion of $1.8 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to partially fund the project.

Investigators are looking into whether the diversion, linked to a controversial move by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2011, may have violated securities law.

It is unlikely that the fire will have a significant impact on the timing of the years-long project, Schapiro said.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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