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Royal Gorge fire destroys 20 structures, tram at park

By: Jesse Paul The Gazette
June 12, 2013 Updated: June 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm
Caption +
Visitors and employees leave the Royal Gorge Bridge park as smoke billows skyward Tuesday afternoon, June 11, 2013, from a fire near the gorge in western Fremont County west of Canon City, Colo. The fire burning on an estimated 300 acres south of the Royal Gorge Bridge and the Arkansas River led to the evacuation of the park, the Bureau of Land Management said. (AP Photo/The Pueblo Chieftain, Brian Bowen)

The 3,100-acre Royal Gorge fire is 20 percent contained and is not posing a threat to Canon City, officials say.

The updated fire report on Wednesday said 20 structures now are confirmed to be lost, but no fatalities or injuries have been reported.

Peggy Gair, a spokeswoman for the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, said that "many buildings on the property were a catastrophic loss."

Gair added that the aerial tram near the bridge was destroyed. The tram cable fell after being severely charred, she said.

The famed bridge over the gorge was still standing, although the fire jumped the Arkansas River, driven by gusting winds.

At an 8:30 p.m. news briefing, officials said only 32 wood planks on the bridge were destroyed.

According to Woody Percival, Fire Information Officer with the U.S. Forest Service, 20 structures have been lost. He said he could not comment on where or what those structures were.

At the briefing, officials said several barns were intact, as was the sky coaster. On the south side, the big horn lodge, park ranger building, as well as the zipline and related buildings, were undamaged. other structures were gone.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team will take command of the fire Thursday morning. A community informational meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, and details will be announced Thursday morning.

Officials said Wednesday night that they had requested additional air support, but they did not expect any help due to the Black Forest fire still raging north of Colorado Springs.

Late Tuesday the Colorado Department of Corrections evacuated 905 inmates from the Territorial Prison, also known as "Old Max," in Canon City. All were moved to other DOC facilities.

Highway 50 remained closed west of Canon City. c All of the businesses along the highway were closed and everyone was being evacuated.

"The wildfire is still creating some havoc," said Bob Wilson, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. "No estimated time for reopen."

Everywhere in Ca?n City, people's eyes were fixed west where thick smoke was pouring north. Near the Royal Gorge turnoff on Highway 50, as of 4 p.m. it was a ghost town.

As business owners tried to help guests away from campgrounds, zip lines, restaurants and guided raft tour shops, firefighters and police zipped up and down the highway with their emergency lights activated.

"You have to leave, we are under a mandatory evacuation," the manager of the Echo Canyon Campground told a Gazette reporter. "I can't talk right now. I have to get these people out of here."

Brandi Grandon, 43, stood outside the Arkansas River Tours where police were turning people back down Highway 50 toward Ca?n City, and watched in horror as the fire crept toward her. Grandon, whose home was roughly a half mile from the nearest flames, was getting ready to evacuate.

"It's moving really quick," she said. "I called the Sheriff's Office and they said there's nothing to worry about. But to me, it's moving really fast. This is horrifying."

The Pike Interagency Hotshot Crew, based in Monument, is fighting the fire; about 150 firefighters were battling the blaze.

Flames were reported before 1 p.m. and within an hour the smoke was visible for miles. The fire, which started on the south side of the Arkansas River, jumped to the north side, according to the BLM.

Mandatory evacuations are in effect from Parkdale to Soda Point, north of the gorge. A BLM spokesman said he expected the fire to remain active for the next few days.

By 3:30 p.m. a caravan of homeowners was being allowed in to evacuate pets. At the same time officials were trying to organize the evacuation of passengers on the Royal Gorge Railway train, and several groups of river rafters also needed to be evacuated.

Resources on scene include three fire engines, one airtack plane, one helitack crew, one hotshot crew, one 20-person crew, multiple county resources and one BLM and Forest Service firefighting squad, the BLM said. More resources are on the way. Two single-engine airtankers, one Type 1 hotshot crew, three hand crews and one Type 3 Incident Management Team have been called to help.

Some were trying to organize rescue efforts amid the chaotic conditions.

The Red Cross opened an evacuation center at Evangelical Free Church, 3000 E. Main St., in Ca?n City.

An animal and livestock shelter has been set up at Pathfinder Park off Highway 115 between Ca?n City and Florence.

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