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Train service resumes in Glenwood Canyon, wildfires grow to a combined 179,000 acres

It could be several more days before motorists will be allowed on Interstate 70 through the mountain corridor.

Firefighters battle the Grizzly Creek fire near Glenwood Springs. (Handout)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Trains have started moving again through Glenwood Canyon where railroad tracks were closed because of an ongoing wildfire. But it could be several more days before motorists will be allowed on Interstate 70 through the mountain corridor.

Union Pacific and Amtrak resumed service through Glenwood Springs after closing the tracks in Glenwood Canyon last week, The Post Independent reported Wednesday. Union Pacific’s first train traveled through the canyon just east of Glenwood Springs on Monday morning, spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said.

Trains normally permitted to travel at 25 mph were reduced to a maximum speed of 5 mph through the 18-mile stretch of canyon.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr Line resumed service through Glenwood Springs on Wednesday, but trains experienced long delays because of debris falling on the tracks. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said trains have been diverted through Wyoming when possible.

Amtrak runs passenger trains through the fire area only after receiving permission from Union Pacific, which owns the tracks.

A train passes through Glenwood Canyon. (Via Flickr)

Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, said Thursday that I-70 through the canyon could open soon, depending on the weather.

“We’re looking at days, not weeks to reopen it, so the end is in sight for the closure,” she said. “And we know that every day matters to Coloradans and to our economy. Once again, we are doing everything we can to expedite this and know that time is of the essence.”

The closure of I-70, the state’s main east-west artery, has forced drivers headed across Colorado to take long detours and has strained local and regional supply chains.

Lew declined to predict exactly when the corridor would reopen, saying rainstorms expected in the area could cause mudslides and rocks to fall from the steep canyon walls.

Michael Goolsby, a regional director for the transportation department, said rockfall mitigation crews will assess vegetation loss in the canyon, and it is too soon to estimate how badly infrastructure such as bridges, roadways and tunnels were damaged.

The Grizzly Creek Fire has burned more than29,500 acres, or 46 square miles, in Garfield and Eagle counties and is 4% contained. Investigators have not determined what caused the blaze, which was first reported Aug. 10, though they believe it is human-caused.

MORE: You’ve seen those massive jets fighting Colorado’s wildfires. Meet the pilots who get “down and dirty” flying them.

“It’s apocalyptic. There’s areas up there that it’s destroyed. It’s terrible, and it pains me to see it,” Goolsby said, adding, “I had somebody specifically tell me they went through and cried when they saw it.”

The fire burned past the popular Hanging Lake area, though officials say it was mostly unscathed.

Three other major wildfires are burning in Colorado.

The Pine Gulch fire, the second-largest in Colorado history, is 17% contained. The blaze near Grand Junction has torched more than 122,000 acres.

Smoke from the Pine Gulch fire blows over the I-70 corridor between Parachute and Rifle Colorado in Garfield County Friday August 14, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The Williams Fork fire in Grand County has burned more than 10,000 acres. it is 3% contained.

The Cameron Peak fire west of Fort Collins has burned more than 16,000 acres. Firefighters have reported no containment.

While the four fires have burned a combined 179,000-plus acres so far, there have been no reports of destroyed homes or structures. The blazes have covered much of Colorado in a thick blanket of smoke, prompting health warnings.