New Mexico wildfires are forcing people from their homes

A wildfire raced across a swath of tinder-dry forest in northeastern New Mexico on Friday, sending up a thick plume of smoke that forced residents to flee their homes as heat and wind threatened to drive the flames.

The blaze destroyed about a dozen empty buildings on the Boy Scouts' storied Philmont Ranch and threatened nearly 300 homes, officials say. 

The flames were first reported Thursday and ballooned quickly in a part of New Mexico hardest hit by a severe drought gripping the American Southwest.

 The blaze destroyed about a dozen empty buildings on the Boy Scouts' storied Philmont Ranch and threatened nearly 300 homes, officials say

 The blaze destroyed about a dozen empty buildings on the Boy Scouts' storied Philmont Ranch and threatened nearly 300 homes, officials say

Evacuation centers have been set up in northeastern New Mexico as heavy smoke from a wildfire has forced residents from Cimarron and the surrounding areas to leave their homes

Evacuation centers have been set up in northeastern New Mexico as heavy smoke from a wildfire has forced residents from Cimarron and the surrounding areas to leave their homes

Smoke being reported in Trinidad and surrounding areas is from Ute Park fire in northern New Mexico

Smoke being reported in Trinidad and surrounding areas is from Ute Park fire in northern New Mexico

More than 60 per cent of the U.S. West is experiencing some level of drought, the latest federal drought maps show, forcing national forests and other public lands to close because of escalating fire danger. 

The area where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet is at the center of a large patch of exceptional drought.

Dry, windy and warm weather was expected to make conditions worse as the New Mexico fire burned on state and private land, including part of the Boy Scouts' ranch, state forestry spokeswoman Wendy Mason said.

 Estimates put the blaze at more than 25 square miles (66 square kilometers). Its cause isn't known.

Officials say no scouts were at the ranch and all staff members were accounted for. Employees who live in the nearby community of Cimarron were allowed to leave to care for their families.

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