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Wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park prompts evacuations

DENVER (Reuters) - A wind-driven wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park northwest of Denver jumped containment lines overnight, triggering the evacuation of hundreds of people on Saturday, fire officials said.

Wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour blew flames from the so-called Fern Lake Fire close to dwellings and destroyed at least one cabin, said fire spokeswoman Traci Weaver.

The east side of the park was closed, and authorities called 1,100 cell and home phones, warning people to either evacuate or prepare to leave quickly if winds drive flames their way.

About 200 people went to stay at an evacuation center in a high school in nearby Estes Park after evacuations were ordered early on Saturday, said Nick Christensen, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.

There are no reports of any injuries, Christensen said.

The forced evacuations represented a dangerous development in firefighters' efforts to quell the stubborn Fern Lake Fire, which has burned for nearly two months.

Efforts to battle the fire have been hampered by the steep, rugged terrain, gusty winds that have restricted air resources, and a lack of precipitation, Weaver said.

The blaze, which has blackened some 1,550 acres, was ignited in October by an illegal campfire and is burning through stands of beetle-killed trees.

It was about 40 percent contained before the overnight flare-up, officials said.

Winds subsided after daybreak Saturday, Weaver said, and two heavy air tankers from Southern California were dispatched to the fire. "What we really need is snow," he said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver: Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis)

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