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Tourists flee national park fire

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MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) — Fire crews called in reinforcements today to battle a wildfire that spread quickly across tinder-dry mesas and canyons, forcing the evacuation of about 1,000 tourists from Mesa Verde National Park.

Officials closed the park Thursday afternoon as the erratic fire grew from 50 acres to 500 acres in about three hours and threatened to cut off the only road into the area of southwestern Colorado.

No injuries were reported and the park's Pueblo Indian ruins were not damaged, U.S. Forest Service fire management officer Mark Lauer said. One structure, believed to be a residence, was threatened.

About 400 firefighters were expected on the scene today.

The fire, apparently caused by lightning, started on private land and spread into the park. The flames came within a mile of the single road.

Some visitors remained in the Far View Lodge inside the park, about 10 miles from the fire, park spokesman Will Morris said. About 80 employees who live in the park were allowed to stay.

Meanwhile, another fire burned late Thursday through the Paiute Wilderness area of the Virgin Mountains in northwestern Arizona. The fire had burned at least 100 acres controlled by the Bureau of Land Management in Elbow Canyon, 10 miles southeast of Mesquite, Nev., said fire information officer Teresa Rigby.

The blaze was started by a person in prime wilderness habitat for bighorn sheep, Rigby said.

More than 55,000 fires have burned 2.7 million acres so far this season, according Thursday figures from the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. That is the worst acreage total since 1996.

On the Net:

Fire center: www.nifc.gov