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New Mexico wildfire rages through Native American reservation

By Joseph Kolb

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - A wind-whipped wildfire on the Navajo Reservation in northwest New Mexico raged for a fourth day on Monday, forcing the evacuation of sheep-herding residents in the Chuska mountains, officials said, but no injuries were reported.

The blaze, nicknamed the Assayii Lake Fire, has so far burned up more than 11,000 acres (4,452 hectares) of land and remains uncontained despite the deployment of hundreds of firefighters and aerial sorties, said Jacey McCurtain, president of the Crystal Chapter on the Navajo Reservation.

Efforts to fight the blaze, which erupted on Friday and is thought to have been caused by people, have been hampered by low visibility and winds of up to 42 miles per hour (68 km per hour) which have pushed it beyond a ridgeline, McCurtain said.

Nearly a dozen families had been evacuated from remote areas on the fire's east side as of Monday evening.

Authorities sought to "protect culturally significant lands and historic sites to preserve traditional values", said Bea Day a New Mexico fire official, adding that the blaze had affected some of the reservation's prime grazing land.

Some 50 residences have been threatened and a preliminary estimate shows four structures have been destroyed, fire officials said. Part of the reservation community of Naschitti has been told to evacuate, they said.

(Reporting by Joseph Kolb in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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