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Massive wildfire threatens to torch Colorado tourist town

In South Fork, Colo., a surging Colorado fire has forced hundreds to evacuate, one of several recent blazes that made for an especially destructive fire season in the state. Now federal cuts may diminish fire prevention funding even further across the nation, forcing some communities to take matters into their own hands.  NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reports.

A monstrous wildfire blazed a trail through steep, rugged terrain in Colorado on Friday, threatening to scorch a tourist town in the state’s southwestern mountains, officials said.

The approximately 400 residents of South Fork, Colo., were forced to evacuate Friday as the fast-moving blaze barreled through the Rio Grande National Forest, carried along by dry, rough winds, according to a statement from Archuleta County Emergency Management.

Wildland fire crews joined forces with local firefighters to beat back the 47-square-mile inferno, which was just seven miles southwest of South Fork and raging at a rate of roughly a mile an hour Friday afternoon, according to The Associated Press.

The town is a popular destination for hiking and camping excursions. It was used as the backdrop for a zany family trip in the 1983 comedy “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

The so-called West Fork Fire Complex -- a combination of the West Fork and Windy Pass fires -- is the latest blaze to tear through the drought-parched western U.S. and comes on the heels of the so-called Black Forest blaze near Colorado Springs.

Officials said that fire, whick killed two people and ravaged 509 homes, was the most destructive on record in the state.

Matt Hildner / The Pueblo Chieftain via AP

Smoke from the West Fork Fire surrounds drivers on Colorado 149 near South Fork, Colo., on June 20. The highway was later closed and mandatory evacuation orders issued for the nearby town of South Fork.