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Gusts whip up New Mexico wildfire

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Residents flee as fire destroys homes
  • NEW: The fire has burned 500 to 1,000 acres
  • It spread quickly under high winds, forestry officials say
  • Those winds have grounded aircraft that could be used to fight the blaze

(CNN) -- Firefighters in southern New Mexico scrambled to contain a fast-spreading brush fire that had burned five homes by Monday evening, a state forestry spokesman said.

Winds gusting up to 50 mph spread the fire from 50 acres early Monday to 500 to 1,000 acres by nightfall, according to Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. Those winds made efforts to attack the blaze by air impossible, he said. The flames were pushing into a neighborhood in Silver City, about 230 miles south of Albuquerque.

Five homes had been damaged or destroyed, along with an unconfirmed number of other structures such as sheds or barns, Ware said. Residents were being evacuated to the local civic center ahead of the fire, he added.

Forestry officials say human activity was the likely cause of the blaze, though they do not know exactly how it started.

CNN's Leslie Tripp contributed to this report