ROYAL GORGE, Colo. — While firefighters were still struggling on Thursday to gain any measure of containment on the Black Forest Fire, the most destructive wildfire in state history, the containment of another serious fire just 55 miles south was slowly rising.
Early Friday morning, a report out of the Incident Command center at the Royal Gorge Fire indicated the 3,162-acre wildfire was 40 percent contained, with several previously-closed sections of infrastructure set to reopen.
Specifically, officials said Highway 50 and the Royal Gorge Tourist Train would begin operations again on Friday. Access to closed portions of the Arkansas River may be available on Friday, as well.
But this sliver of good news came after days of difficulty. The fire has consumed 48 of the 52 structures in the Royal Gorge Park, and while the fire was unable to severely damage the Royal Gorge Bridge, it did burn some of the iconic structure’s wooden planks.
Seasonal employees have lost their jobs at the park, but the permanent workers insist they will reopen as soon as the fire is over.
LINK: View the fire perimeter
“We have made good progress on the fire (Thursday) without any accidents or injuries,” said Dennis Page, incident commander for the fire.
The Royal Gorge Fire triggered the precautionary evacuation of 905 inmates from the Centennial Correctional Facility, located in Canon City. Most of the inmates are “special needs,” meaning they receive medical treatment, said state corrections department spokeswoman Alison Morgan.
The famous Royal Gorge Bridge that spans the Arkansas River is intact but needs to be inspected before it can reopen for tourists, a spokeswoman for the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park said.
The suspension bridge, which is 956 feet above the river and among the highest in the world, is made of more than 1,000 wooden planks. The fire began on Tuesday south of the bridge before hopping the Arkansas River and into the park itself.
Gair says fire at the park burned a visitor’s center, a tramway building, a carousel and several restaurants. Cable for the tram fell into the gorge.
“We did not know until Thursday whether the bridge was still going to be standing,” Gorge Bridge and Park spokeswoman Peggy Gair said.
There were other fires in the state as well, including in Grand and Huerfano counties. The Black Forest Fire was the biggest of the blazes.