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Lighter winds allow crews to boost defenses against New Mexico fires

Crews fighting a wildfire in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico took advantage of lighter winds Sunday by building protection lines on key flanks of the blaze.

The Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire continued to grow, burning more than 122,000 acres, or 191 square miles, by midday Sunday and was about two miles away from the privately owned ghost town of Mogollon in southwestern New Mexico.

The town was evacuated Saturday due to extreme winds, but no homes there have been destroyed.

Denise Ottaviano, a spokeswoman for the crew fighting the blaze, said the fire remains active near Mogollon, but the blaze hasn't made a significant push toward the town. Crews were working to build a protection line between Mogollon and the fire's western edge.

The blaze, however, destroyed a dozen homes and several outbuildings Wednesday in the community of Willow Creek, which remains under evacuation.

No other communities were threatened.

Sunday, crews were building protection lines on the fire's western and northern edges and making preparations to send five helicopters into the air to focus on the blaze's hot spots.

For the last several days, high winds have prevented helicopters taking to the air. But winds of 10 to 15 mph Sunday prompted crews to search for water supplies for the five helicopters. Officials hoped to get the helicopters in the air later Sunday.

"That's definitely an improvement to get those helicopters in the air to help the firefighters on the ground," Ottaviano said.

Zero percent of the fire has been contained.

Meanwhile, in western Colorado, gusty winds have spread two wildfires that have burned more than 7,000 acres and prompted the evacuation of several campgrounds.

Crews were battling a wildfire that has scorched at least 5,000 acres of rugged canyon land north of Paradox near the Colorado-Utah border.

Sheriff's deputies Saturday evacuated the Buckeye Reservoir area, a popular recreation spot near the Utah border. The Rock Creek and Sinbad Valley areas also were evacuated.

Winds of more than 60 mph fueled a 2,325-acre fire northwest of Pagosa Springs, and several campgrounds in the area have been evacuated.

In California, ground crews with air support were surrounding a stubborn wildfire that has burned through 4,100 acres of grass and brush in rural San Diego County.

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