Royal Gorge Fire evacuations lifted; 3,162 acres burned at 20 percent containment

Fire moving into beetle killed trees

CANON CITY, Colo. - With Colorado State Patrol declaring Thursday "a great day for our fire crews" working against the Royal Gorge Fire, officials said evacuations have ended.

Highway 50 between Canon City and Salida has also been reopened.

Residents returning home are advised to carry identification with them.

Officials cautioned residents in the previously evacuated area that they will remain on a pre-evacuation notice should fire conditions change. 

The Royal Gorge Fire, burning west of Canon City, is estimated to have burned 3,162 acres.

The fire broke out at about 1 p.m. Tuesday. Two days later, containment is estimated at 20 percent.

The fire has ravaged the 48 of the 52 structures in the Royal Gorge Park and has damaged part of the historic bridge.

Aerial photographs showed several of the buildings burning Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the fire ignited.

Fire Information Officer Mike Smith confirmed Thursday the cable house for the incline railway was badly damaged, as were the tracks for that ride. The aerial tram and both terminal buildings were also lost, resulting in the cables plunging into the gorge.

The landmark Royal Gorge Bridge, a steel structure with wooden planks for a road surface, survived but has damage to 32 planks.

Because of the amount of devastation Smith said it was easier to list the park structures that survived the fire. He said those were the Bighorn Lodge, Zip Line buildings, the park ranger building, the Plaza Theater, the Sky Coaster ride and the animal barn.

In addition to the loss of the buildings, which could total into the millions of dollars, many jobs are lost as a result of the damage.

The fire is burning in piñon and juniper forests on BLM, state and private lands.

There are about 136 firefighters battling the blaze. There are also three air tankers and two helicopters assisting in the fire fight.

"Our goal is to strengthen our containment lines and to keep this fire south of Highway 50," said Dan Dallas, RMIMT2 Incident Commander.

Fire managers, working with cooperators, were also able to determine that the Royal Gorge Tourist Train can begin operations again, once the railway can evaluate when they will be able to resume normal activities. The train runs through the bottom of the gorge.

River access on the closed portion of the Arkansas River (from Spike Buck to Cañon City) will be re-evaluated Friday, as the incident managers strive to restore the important recreation features that have been impacted by the Royal Gorge Fire.

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