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40 New Mexico homes burned in 3 fires

Fires rage on the property of a home in Ruidoso, New Mexico on Saturday.  

RUIDOSO, New Mexico (CNN) -- Whipped by wind gusts up to 60 mph, three fires in south-central New Mexico burned 40 homes and consumed more than 2,000 acres Saturday, local authorities said.

More than 400 firefighters, some coming from the New Mexico-Texas border more than 150 miles away, were battling the fires in the mountainous region near Ruidoso. Authorities have called for a disaster designation for the area.

The fires broke out around noon 130 miles south-southeast of Albuquerque and were still raging out of control more than seven hours later, said Jerry Ramirez, a firefighter with the Ruidoso Fire Department.

There have been no reports of injuries, but about 1,000 homes in several subdivisions were evacuated, said Lt. Wolf Born of the Ruidoso Police Department.

All 40 houses were burned in the Kokopelli fire, several miles north of Ruidoso. The fire also scorched more than 1,000 acres of the Alto Lakes Country Club in Lincoln County.

The two other fires were on the Mescalera Indian Reservation.

"We're speculating that (all the fires) are human-caused," Ramirez said.

About 1,000 people sought shelter at two Red Cross centers, one at Ruidoso High School and the other at the country club.

"You got people who lost houses, people who don't know they've lost houses and are kind of frantic," John Conrad, an employee at the club, told The Associated Press.

The high winds forced officials to ground helicopters and planes typically used to dump water and fire-retardant chemicals on fires. But the winds were expected to subside late Saturday.

The area has been suffering drought in recent months, making the thick groves of pine trees highly combustible.




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