A FIRE which caused thousands of pounds of damage to a Chippenham bridge is believed to have been caused by arsonists.

Children on their way home from school on July 16 saw flames and black smoke coming from the Blue Bridge in Baydon's Lane, Chippenham.

The bridge links Monkton Park to the London Road area of Chippenham. It is well used by the entire community and is part of the North Wiltshire Rivers Route.

Police say furniture and mattresses had been placed in a pile on the riverbank, underneath the Baydon's Lane side of the bridge and set alight.

A number of local youths were taken in for questioning.

The designer of the 50ft-long bridge, which was completed four years ago, visited the site to assess the damage, which is estimated to be in the region of £10,000. In his report to the owners of the bridge, North Wiltshire District Council, he said there was no damage to the steel superstructure, but a number of Tarmac-coated wooden panels on the bridge's walkway were badly scarred by the flames.

He said the lighting system was damaged and a large section of the bridge will need to be redecorated.

But the bridge's structure safetywas not damaged by the blaze and it was later re-opened to the public.

Residents were angry the bridge seemed to have been targeted by vandals Richard Bishop, 52, of Baydons Lane, said: "I'm very shocked because it was a lovely spot.

"When they catch up with the culprits they should make them pay for the repairs.

"There was no need at all for that, it was sheer vandalism. Sadly what they did affects everyone who uses the bridge."

Christine Norman, 58, of Baydon's Lane, said: "All I could see was smoke and flames. It's such a shame."

District councillor Mike Hatton (pictured), said: "I am bitterly disappointed that Baydon's Lane Bridge has been the subject of such vandalism.

"It is greatly used by a wide variety of people and will need significant resources to restore it to its original condition."

Mr Hatton said although he was saddened by the attack, he was prepared to open a dialogue with the youths to find out why they attacked the bridge.

He said if young people have grievances or concerns he would be happy to talk to them in an effort to resolve differences and include them in the community.

"Hopefully we can take it as a one-off from some young people who were a little bit silly," he said.

"They live here and the bridge is as much theirs as anyone else's. We need to engage their community spirit and encourage them to be part of the community, not outside it."

Two 17-year-old Chippenham boys have been bailed pending further inquiries.