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Hundreds displaced by Western wildfires

Smoke from a massive northern Colorado wildfire that has forced hundreds of people from their homes was blowing into southeast Wyoming and smudging the skies above Cheyenne on Wednesday.

Overnight winds from the southwest blew smoke into Wyoming, leaving a pungent odor around the state's capital city, about 50 miles north of the fire. The smoke Tuesday drifted south to Denver, but skies there were clear a day later.

The fire 15 miles west of Fort Collins has burned 73 square miles, destroyed more than 100 structures and forced hundreds of residents to leave their homes.

The evacuees face extended displacement and uncertainty, though some were to find out late Wednesday whether their houses are still standing.

Many residents in the mountains of southern New Mexico faced heartbreak: A 56-square-mile fire threatening the village of Ruidoso damaged or destroyed at least 224 homes and other structures. Workers found heaps of burned metal and debris on home sites hit hardest by the Little Bear fire.

"It's truly heartbreaking to see the damage done to this beautiful part of the country," said New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

The fires have underscored the need to replenish the nation's aerial firefighting fleet. This week, the U.S. Forest Service announced it was increasing the national fleet to 17. And Wednesday, President Obama signed a bill to speed up the contracting of the next generation of air tankers.

A 62-year-old woman died in her cabin in Colorado's High Park Fire, which was caused by lightning and has destroyed more than 100 structures. More than 600 firefighters labored to build containment lines as air tankers and helicopters focused on protecting buildings.

In Wyoming, where crews made gains on two wildfires, State Forester Bill Crapser said firefighters throughout the West are coping with drought, stands of trees killed by bark beetles, more residents in forested areas and a decades-old buildup of fuel -- the legacy of quickly stamping out fires, rather than letting them burn as nature intended.