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Wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming force evacuations (+video)

Federal firefighters will take over the fire fight west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Monday. New Mexico battles the largest wildfire in state history. Wildfires in Wyoming forced the evacuation of as many as 1,000 campers at Guernsey State Park.

By Kristen WyattAssociated Press / June 11, 2012

Firefighters in Colorado are battling a huge, wind-driven wildfire, 15 miles northwest of Fort Collins. CBS News' Barry Petersen reports.

Laporte, Colo.

An eerie orange dusk shrouded part of northern Colorado, while heavy smoke choked a small community in southern New Mexico — as both regions battled wildfires spreading rapidly through mountainous forest land that have forced hundreds of evacuations and destroyed dozens of structures.

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The Colorado fire, burning in a mountainous area about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, grew to more than 31 square miles within about a day of being reported and has destroyed or damaged 18 structures.

Federal firefighters are on their way to help battle the fire west of Fort Collins. The U.S. Forest Service says a federal team will take over management of the fire on Monday.

IN PICTURES: Colorado wildfires

The fire on Sunday sent up heavy smoke, obscuring the sun in the middle of the day. The smell of smoke drifted into the Denver area and smoke spread as far away as central Nebraska, western Kansas and Texas.

Strong winds, meanwhile, grounded aircraft fighting a 40-square-mile wildfire near the mountain community of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico. Crews were working to build a fire line around the blaze, which started Friday and has damaged or destroyed 36 structures.

It wasn't immediately clear how many of the structures lost were homes. "We're still trying to take a tally," Kerry Gladden, public information officer for Ruidoso, said late Sunday afternoon.

Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division, said the number of Ruidoso evacuees was in the hundreds, but he didn't have an exact figure.

Karen Takai, a spokeswoman for the Ruidoso fire crews, said smoke is heavily impacting the community of Capitan, about 5 miles to the northeast. She said Capitan and others could also face evacuation.

"Any communities around this fire have the potential of being evacuated," she said. "If I lived in Capitan, I definitely would be prepared. Don't wait until the sheriff's office comes knocking at your door and tells you to evacuate."

Both fires were dwarfed by the Whitewater-Baldy blaze in southwest New Mexico — the largest in the state's history — that has charred 450 square miles of wilderness forest since mid-May. But the smaller blazes were especially concerning because they started much closer to more populated areas.

Elsewhere Sunday, firefighters were battling a wildfire that blackened 6 square miles in Wyoming's Guernsey State Park and forced the evacuation of between 500 and 1,000 campers and visitors. Cooler weather was helping firefighters in their battle against two other wildfires in southern Utah.

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