In mid-June 2013, the Royal Gorge wildfire blazed through rugged pine and sagebrush-covered terrain in central Colorado. The fire started on June 11, 2013, northwest of Cañon City and along the Arkansas River. By the time firefighters had fully contained it five days later, the blaze had charred 3,218 acres (1,302 hectares).
The fire destroyed 48 of the 52 structures at Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, an amusement park on the rim of Royal Gorge. An aerial tram, antique carousel, and the park’s visitor center were among the structures lost. While the fire caused damage on both sides of the gorge, the Royal Gorge Bridge—the centerpiece of the park—escaped with only minor damage. The bridge stands 955 feet (291 meters) above the Arkansas River, making it one of the highest suspension bridges in the world.
On June 25, 2013, the ISERV Pathfinder camera on the International Space Station captured this view of the burn scar left by the fire. The most severely burned areas are dark brown; areas with minimal vegetation (which burned nonetheless) are light brown. Unburned areas are green or tan. The bridge is visible in the lower image, and dark patches near the river are shadows.
Despite the damage, not all of the news was bad. A theater, skycoaster, and mini-train survived the fire. So did herds of bison, elk, and sheep kept in the park. In fact, the day after the fire, a rare white bison calf was born; the owners named it Smokey.
ISERV is an engineering “testbed” instrument. The intent is to develop an imager that can help nations monitor natural disasters and environmental concerns because nearly 95 percent of the Earth’s populated area is visible from the space station’s orbit. ISERV was developed to support a joint NASA/U.S. Agency for International Development project known as SERVIR, which provides satellite data and tools to environmental decision-makers in developing countries and operates via regional centers in Kenya, Nepal, and Panama.
NASA images by Burgess Howell, SERVIR Global program. Caption by Adam Voiland.