Shortly after midnight on Monday morning, fire tore through a stately brick building in a historic and decaying rail yard just south of downtown Denver.
No one was injured, said Denver Fire spokesman Greg Pixley. But the lack of internal walls allowed the fire to move through the building quickly, eventually consuming the roof before fire crews put it out about three hours later.
“We don’t know exactly what caused the fire, but we know that the homeless population in that area created additional concerns for our firefighters,” Pixley told Denverite in a phone interview Wednesday morning.
The building was once a repair shop in the old Burnham Yard, which was a repair and storage yard for more than a century before closing in 2016.
Union Pacific recently sold most of the yard to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which intends to use the land to facilitate expansions of RTD’s busiest light-rail corridor, Interstate 25 and, perhaps one day, downtown access for a Front Range passenger rail line.
Much of that land, though, could be eventually sold to private developers and be connected to the existing neighborhood to the east. It’s possible some of the historic buildings could be restored in some fashion.
The future of the repair shop is unclear — Pixley said there’s little left beyond charred exterior walls and that the fire department will work with CDOT to ensure it’s demolished. But a CDOT spokesperson said the building will have to go through a state historical review process before anything can be done with it.
Regardless, the fire was “heartbreaking” to Dan Quiat, president of the Museum of Railway Workers. He had owned more than two dozen rail cars at Burnham Yard for more than a decade before losing them after UP closed the yard.
The repair shop was made of brick and wood and was the “oldest and most interesting in character,” Quiat wrote in a somber Facebook post. Parts of the building dated back to the 1880s, he told Denverite, and it was continually modified — sometimes with pieces of railcars themselves — by the often-cash-strapped then-owner Rio Grande Railroad.
“It was a very vital part of what Burnham did,” he said.
Quiat said CDOT’s purchase of the yard makes him hopeful for the facility’s future. But that requires that the remaining historic buildings, like the two-story locomotive shop that abuts the 8th Avenue viaduct, survive.
“Because there’s no one there, everything’s vulnerable to whatever might happen,” he said. “This is the time that we really need to be keeping an eye on everything, to make sure that things don’t get destroyed.”
CDOT was in the process of fencing off the property when the fire happened, and an agency spokesperson said that should be complete by mid-September.
“The department has also posted dozens of ‘no trespassing’ signs, and we will be taking additional steps as necessary to keep people and this area safe,” the spokesperson said.