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More evacuated as wildfires spread in New Mexico, Colorado

Ed Andrieski / AP

Firefighters watch as flames leap hundreds of feet in the air as the High Park wildfire fire explodes on the south side of Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Thursday. The wildfire started Saturday and has burned over 50,000 acres.

Wildfires continued to spread in New Mexico and Colorado as a new evacuation order was issued for approximately 80 homes in northern Colorado, NBC affiliate 9News.com reported.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that some of the 2,500 people forced to evacuate their central New Mexico houses by wildfires raging near the resort village of Ruidoso began returning home on Thursday with the help of National Guard troops, officials said.

Evacuees from five communities have started heading home, but residents of four other neighborhoods around Ruidoso and the Lincoln National Forest, including those who lived in 230 burned homes, have yet to be allowed.

"There are still hot spots and active fire burning," said fire information officer Jimmye Turner. "We won't let people in until those areas are safe."

The Little Bear Fire, sparked by lightning on June 4, has consumed 37,912 acres of the Lincoln National Forest.

Firefighters say the fire may continue burning into the fall, feeding on hundreds of acres of trees killed by pine beetles. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

Read the story at 9news.com

More than 1,300 firefighters and others have be working to cope with the disaster, including 400 National Guardsmen ordered to protect property and assist evacuations and returns.

Firefighters have been able to contain 40 percent of the blaze, helped by low winds and higher humidity. However, higher winds and temperatures on Thursday were igniting previously unburned islands within containment lines, Turner said.

In southeastern New Mexico, firefighters continued to battle what is known as the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire, the largest in the state's history. The 289,478-acre fire is now 56 percent contained, officials said.

However, in neighboring Colorado, a blaze known as the High Park Fire, which has scorched 52,000 acres of timber and dried brush, is only 15-20 percent under control, despite the efforts of 1,200 firefighters, fire managers said.

The Colorado fire has destroyed more than 100 structures - including more than 30 homes - in the rugged mountain canyons 15 miles west of Fort Collins. It is blamed for one death.

Hundreds of people remain under evacuation orders, but some residents on the south side of the fire have been allowed home.

The western edge of the fire has moved into the Roosevelt National Forest, where there are fewer homes and denser concentrations of trees. The fire made a run into the stands of dead trees on Wednesday, sending a mushroom cloud of smoke some 30,000 feet into the air that was visible for hundreds of miles.

Officials have warned residents of a 1,000-home subdivision at the mouth of Poudre Canyon to "move out quickly" should flames jump the Poudre River and move into the canyon. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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