CANON CITY — It was windy on June 11. Gusts up to 50 mph were whipping a wildfire on the south rim of the Royal Gorge, but Royal Gorge Bridge & Park manager Mike Bandera wasn't too worried.

He was listening to radio chatter from firefighters.

"They said there's no way the fire would jump the gorge," he said. "Wasn't going to happen."

But those winds hurled burning piñon, sage and juniper embers 1,600 feet across the chasm. In 20 minutes, 48 of the 52 buildings in the 85-year-old park were burned to ashes.

It was a devastating blow, not just to the Royal Gorge Company, which has leased the park from Cañon City since 1947, but to the entire Fremont County region, which leans heavily on the bridge and park as its top tourist draw.

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