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ROYAL GORGE FIRE: Containment up to 65 percent, talk of bridge and park future begins

By: JESSE PAUL jesse.paul@gazette.com
June 14, 2013 Updated: June 14, 2013 at 11:40 pm
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photo - The Royal Gorge Bridge scenic tramway is completely charged and dangling from its docking station.
The Royal Gorge Bridge scenic tramway is completely charged and dangling from its docking station. 

11:27 p.m. UPDATE: Containment of the Royal Gorge fire has increased to 65 percent,

"There are still some pockets of unburned fuel well within the fire perimeter; however they pose no threat to the containment lines," the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team B reported.

"On Saturday, firefighters will continue to strengthen lines on the SW portion of the fire and conduct mop-up operations on the entire fire perimeter."

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A closed stretch of U.S. Highway 50 reopened, and evacuated residents have been allowed to return to their homes near the Royal Gorge fire just west of Canon City.

Officials told evacuated residents that they will remain on pre-evacuation notice despite being allowed to return to their homes. As of 8 p.m. Thursday, fire officials said they made significant progress in fighting the blaze and now report the fire is 40 percent contained.

Fire managers announced that the Royal Gorge Tourist Train can begin operations again after an evaluation by railway personnel.

The National Forest Service said that Thursday's weather and the hard work of fire crews can be credited with the progress in battling the wildfire. With lower temperatures and favorable weather conditions forecast, officials hope to make even more headway Friday.

The Royal Gorge fire began Tuesday afternoon on the south side of the Arkansas River at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Hundreds of people were hastily evacuated out of the area, including more than 900 inmates from the Territorial Prison.

Peggy Gair, a spokeswoman for the attraction, said that "many buildings on the property were a "catastrophic loss."

Of the more than 1,000 planks on the bridge, only 32 were burned on the south end of it, according to a Canon City Daily Record report. But of the 52 structures on the property, only four remain.

The aerial tram at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park has also been destroyed, Gair confirmed. The tram cable fell after being severely charred.

Canon City Administrator Doug Dotson told the Daily Record it's time to look toward the future.

"We've already been talking with bridge management about what's to come," he said. "We are already in the process of beginning to think about a master plan for the redevelopment and revitalization in that area."

The Canon City Council has been talking for several months to potential developers about the possibility of a significant hotel facility in the Royal Gorge area.

"We are talking about new attractions," Dotson told the Daily Record "We think it's going to be an extremely exciting project for the future of this community. We're going to start moving that idea forward on Monday."

The fire remains under investigation.

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Contact Jesse Paul at 636-0253 Twitter: @JesseAPaul

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