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All Evacuations Lifted In Royal Gorge Fire

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GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

Royal Gorge Fire (credit: CBS)

Royal Gorge Fire (credit: CBS)

CANON CITY, Colo. (CBS4/AP) — All evacuations have been lifted in connection with the wildfire burning near Royal Gorge Park. The wildfire has destroyed much of the park and damaged the famous bridge.

The Royal Gorge Fire had forced 250 people from their homes near Canon City since it broke out Tuesday. Those allowed back home will remain on standby.

The fire had burned 3,162 acres as of Thursday evening, including 20 structures. Much of the park was destroyed. It will be closed indefinitely.

“One of the structures that was burned on that south rim was the Barbecue Plaza eating area,” local resident Tracy Harmon said.

The famous suspension bridge over the Arkansas River appears to be in relatively good condition. A total of 32 of its 1,292 wooden planks are damaged.

The fire was 20 percent contained as of Thursday evening.

An aerial tram car and tram buildings on either side of the gorge are destroyed, and the tram cable has dropped into the canyon. An incline railway that descends 1,500 feet to the canyon floor is damaged.

Repairs continue on the bridge to reopen that portion as quickly as possible, with limited capacity.

The Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest suspension bridge in the United States and the eighth highest in the world.

Highway 50 reopened at 8 p.m. Thursday.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Royal Gorge Fire (credit: CBS)

Royal Gorge Fire (credit: CBS)

In addition to threatening the 86-year-old tourist attraction, the fire forced the evacuation of more than 900 prisoners at a state prison early Wednesday.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson said prisoners from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility were taken to other prisons overnight. The evacuation was ordered because of the danger from heavy smoke, she said. The fire has not reached the prison.

Royal Gorge Fire (credit: CBS)

Royal Gorge Fire (credit: CBS)

“This was done as a precaution because it takes a lot of time to move the prisoners,” Jacobson said.

The medium- and low-risk prisoners were evacuated by bus, including 24 from an infirmary who were taken to a Denver facility, some in wheelchairs.

There are two SEATs, one large helicopter and five smaller choppers fighting the fire from the air. A massive DC-10 was dropping at both the Royal Gorge Fire and the Black Forest Fire.

Unpredictable wind still has firefighters worried.

“Certainly in places it is going to burn back on itself, which is obviously favorable to firefighters,” Gregg Goodland with the U.S. Forest Service said. “But then again, with those unsecured flanks where it’s unfavorable to firefighters we are going to see increased fire behavior … the wind is not going to help.”

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The Ride the Rockies bicycle tour was scheduled to go over the bridge and ride U.S. 50 back into town. On Thursday the route was redirected so that it no longer takes cyclists over the bridge.

Instead the sixth stage of the 2013 tour will begin in Salida and end in Canon City as planned. The route between the two points has been adjusted so the cyclists will travel through the town of Westcliffe, Wetmore and Florence before heading north into Canon City.

There’s another festival in Salida this weekend and the best way to get there for tens of thousands of people is U.S. 50.

The fire moved quickly Tuesday, driven by record temperatures and strong winds. The conditions were making it difficult to build containment lines around the flames, and sparks jumped across them.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized federal funds to defray costs of fighting the Royal Gorge Fire.

Wildfire Resources

- Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.

- Read recent Wildfire stories.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

- See images from the most destructive wildfires (Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

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