Fires burning near Royal Gorge, in national park | AspenTimes.com

Fires burning near Royal Gorge, in national park

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

The Parkdale Canyon wildfire burns along a ridge above the home of Dr. Dorothy Twellman on County Road 61 in Fremont County near Canon City, Colo., on Monday, June 21, 2010. The home was later destroyed by fire. The fire, which has at least reached 650 acres, has forced the evacuation of several homes and businesses in the area west of Canon City. (AP Photo/Pueblo Chieftain, Tracy Harmon)

CANON CITY, Colo. – A wildfire that grew from at least five smaller blazes burned about 700 acres in central Colorado Monday, destroying several structures and forcing the evacuation of homes, businesses and campgrounds near the Royal Gorge Park.

The U.S Bureau of Land Management said winds of up to 30 mph drove the fire 14 miles west of Canon City. BLM spokeswoman said Cass Cairns said it wasn’t clear what kind of buildings were lost.

Fremont County Commissioner Ed Norden said fire officials believed the fire destroyed at least one home.

The sheriff’s department said calls were made to 177 phone customers – business and residential – notifying them of evacuations, Norden said. Horses and other animals were moved out of the area.

The BLM said a series of fires was first reported at about 2 p.m. Monday in the area 115 miles south of Denver. The cause wasn’t known.

The fire was burning along U.S. 50, including the part that runs near the Royal Gorge Park. The park includes a suspension bridge that spans a gorge more than 1,100 feet deep that was cut by the Arkansas River.

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Mike Bandera, general manager of the Royal Gorge Bridge, told The Denver Post that the bridge wasn’t threatened.

About 50 firefighters were battling the blaze. Cairns said a large air tanker, a single-engine plane and helicopters were dropping fire retardant on the flames. Engine crews planned to patrol the area through the need to protect structures.

Farther south, high winds made a fire burning east of the Great Sand Dunes National Park inaccessible to firefighters. Federal officials said the fire has burned more than 4,700 acres and is not threatening any structures. The park in southern Colorado has remained open.