Photos: Wildfires char Southwest US

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  1. A fire crew member is seen as firefighters are deployed in order to attack hotspots from the Las Conchas wildfire near Los Alamos, N.M. on June 30. The blaze has charred nearly 93,000 acres of thick pine woodlands on the slopes of the Jemez Mountains since erupting on Sunday near the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was poised to become New Mexico's largest ever wildfire by day's end. (Eric Draper / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A fire truck drives past trees charred in the Las Conchas fire in Los Alamos, N.M. on June 30. Firefighters were confident Thursday that they had stopped the advance of the wildfire that headed toward the Los Alamos nuclear lab and the nearby town. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A wave of smoke billows as the Las Conchas Fire creeps into New Mexico's Cochiti canyon area on Wednesday, June 29. (Morgan Petroski / Albuquerque Journal) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Los Alamos Assistant Fire Chief Michael Thompson orders his men to pack up their hoses as flames from the fire move towards them on June 29. The government sent a plane equipped with radiation monitors over the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory as the wildfire burned at its doorstep, putting thousands of scientific experiments on hold for days. (Eddie Moore / The Albuquerque Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. These deer seem oblivious to smoke from the Las Conchas fire on June 29. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. What seems to be a river of smoke winds its way through Cochiti Canyon on June 29. (Morgan Petroski / Albuquerque Journal) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Tom Whitson carries water and Gatorade that he is donating to fire evacuees on June 29 in Santa Fe, N.M. Whitson had to place his donations in the hallway because the room with the fire donations was getting too full. (Luis Sanchez Saturno / The New Mexican via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A wall of smoke rises as the Las Conchas Fire burns through a canyon on June 29. (Morgan Petroski / Albuquerque Journal) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Firefighters Tim Adams, right, and Abraham Diaz, both of Apple Valley, Calif., carry a fire hose while battling the Las Conchas fire on June 29. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Alex Lopez, center, plays baseball with his sister Sugey while smoke from the Las Conchas fire covers the sky in Espanola, N.M., on June 29. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker shows a map of the Las Conchas fire during a news conference in Los Alamos on June 29. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Los Alamos Fire Chief Douglas Tucker (right) talks to the residents of Los Alamos during a meeting at the White Rock Baptist Church in White Rock, New Mexico about the Las Conchas fires, on June 29. About 12,000 people were placed under mandatory evacuation. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. National Guardsmen block one of the roads leading into the mountain area where the Las Conchas Fire burns on Wednesday, June 29. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The sun rises near Los Alamos on June 29, shrouded in smoke from the Las Conchas fire. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Flames from the Las Conchas Fire burn in the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos on the morning of June 28. (Eddie Moore / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Firefighter Chris Teters, of Portland, Ore., mops up hot spots in Pajarito Mountain ski area near Los Alamos, N.M. on June 28. Firefighters battled a vicious wildfire that was spreading through the mountains above the northern New Mexico town. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A water truck sprays along the road in Los Alamos Canyon on June 28 as workers cleared the forest of brush and fallen fuel wood in hopes of slowing the fire should it crest the hill and head toward the city. (Jim Thompson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The Morrison family, Dee, top left, Taylor, 4, right, Bob, and Jeni, center, pack up their belongings following a mandatory evacuation ordered for Los Alamos, N.M., as the rapidly-growing Las Conchas wildfire approaches on Monday, June 27. (Craig Fritz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Flames from the Las Conchas fire burn in the hills above Los Alamos National Laboratory, a vast complex that houses research laboratories and a plutonium facility, on June 27. Authorities said there was little threat to sensitive areas of the 28,000-acre complex, where explosives are stored in underground concrete and steel bunkers. (Craig Fritz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Carissa Pittman consoles her daughter, Emily, 15, while her husband, Pete, in the car and son, Allen, 21, prepare to leave Los Alamos because of the wildfireon June 27. Thousands of residents calmly fled Monday from the mesa-top town. (Jane Phillips / The New Mexican via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The sun filters through thick smoke from a wildfire burning near Los Alamos on June 27. (Susan Montoya Bryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Joel Montoya carries shoes and a shirts to his car as he evacuates his White Rock, N.M. home due to the wildfire on June 26. Los Alamos County authorities have issued voluntary evacuation orders for both Los Alamos and White Rock. (Luis Sanchez Saturno / The New Mexican via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Dillon Kerry looks through the charred remains of his home, which was destroyed by a wildfire, in Stoneham, Texas on Friday, June 24. Federal and local officials on Thursday lifted the last of the evacuation orders issued during the fight against the most-destructive wildfire in Southeast Texas. (David J. Phillip / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Fire crews from Rio Rico and Helmet Peak mop up hot spots in a storage trailer after the Monument Fire burned through Sierra Vista, Ariz., on Friday. (Greg Bryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Rio Bravo Hot Shots, of Kern County, Ca. work their there way up a trail to reach the fire line at the track fire northeast of Raton, N.M., Friday. Along the New Mexico-Colorado border, the winds Thursday pushed one fire toward breaks that had been carved into the rugged landscape by bulldozers. Crews had anticipated the fire's movement and were prepared to hold the line with help from helicopters and air tankers. (Rick Bowmer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Flames are seen over homes in Sierra Vista, Ariz., on Thursday. (Greg Bryan / Arizona Daily Star via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Helicopters leave after replenishing their water supply as they battle the Monument Fire in Hereford near Sierra Vista, Ariz. on Thursday afternoon. (Beatrice Richardson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Jackelyn Colon takes a moment with her son Omar Gonzalez, 1, at a shelter near Sierra Vista, Ariz., on Thursday, June 16, as the Monument fire continues to grow. The two had to flee their home on Wednesday. Forty homes were destroyed or damaged three days into the fire (Dean Knuth / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A helicopter dumps fire retardant on a fire north of Raton, N.M., on June 16. The fire had charred nearly 26,000 acres before enough progress was made to allow evacuees back to their homes. (Rick Bowmer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A burnt structure is shown following the track fire north of Raton, N.M., on Thursday. (Rick Bowmer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. The Monument fire burns north toward Sierra Vista, Ariz., on June 15. (David Sanders / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A plane drops fire retardant to protect a neighborhood near Sierra Vista, Ariz., on Tuesday, June 14. (Greg Bryan/Arizona Daily Star / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A helicopter picks up fire retardant at Luna Lake on the eastern edge of the Wallow fire outside Alpine, Ariz., near the state border west of the town of Luna, N.M., on June 14. The wildfire that has roared out of control for more than two weeks through the pine forests of eastern Arizona set a record on Tuesday as the largest in state history, having consumed over 469,000 acres. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A wildland firefighter works at a hot spot on the eastern edge of the Wallow fire outside Alpine, Ariz. on June 14. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A slurry bomber drops its load while fighting the Track fire at the Raton Pass in Northern New Mexico on June 13. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. John Evans, an employee of the Arby's restaurant, puts up a thank you message for the firefighters who helped save the town of Eagar, Ariz., from the massive Wallow fire on June 13. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A state police officer mans one of the entrance ramps of I-25 after the Track Fire at Raton Pass, N.M. closed the roadway on June 13. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A home burned in the Wallow fire is seen in Greer, Ariz., on June 13. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Elks escape the wildfire in the forest around the Lee Valley recreational area in the Apache National Forest during back burn operations as the Wallow fire continues to burn June 12 in Big Lake, Ariz. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A butterfly hovers over a flower as smoke rises around the Lee Valley recreational area in the Apache National Forest during back burn operations as the Wallow fire continues to burn, on June 12 in Big Lake, Ariz. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Ralph Geisler, left, wife Stephanie, center, and their son-in-law Dustin Powers unload their belongings as they return home in Springerville, Ariz., June 12. Roughly 7,000 residents of two eastern Arizona towns who evacuated last week as a wildfire loomed nearby were allowed to return home Sunday as officials expressed confidence that they were making progress in their battle against the huge blaze that has been burning since May. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Smoke rises as firefighters battle the Wallow Fire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Ariz., June 12. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Evacuees Jimmy Joy, left, and his daughter Brittney, both of Blue, Ariz., look at a map of the Wallow Fire in a shelter set up at a high school in Lakeside, Ariz. on Saturday, June 11. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Firefighters Wes Odom, left, Tarcy Wright and Cpt. Jimmy Neisen from Surprise, Ariz., work to put out a hot spot in a tree trunk on June 11, in Greer, Ariz. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Tom Hansen, a 74-year-old evacuee from Springerville, Ariz., takes a nap in a shelter in Lakeside, Ariz., June 11. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. A firefighter sets a backburn to fight the Wallow Fire in Nutrioso, Ariz., on June 10. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Smoke rises from the Wallow Fire as it burns toward homes south of Eagar, Ariz., on June 9. After reportedly being sparked by a campfire, the blaze has become the second-largest wildfire in state history and is still growing. (Rob Schumacher / The Arizona Republic via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. An emergency vehicle is seen as smoke from the Wallow Fire covers highway 60 in Springerville, Ariz., on June 9. Several mountain communities have evacuated in advance of the fire, and a utility that supplies power to customers in southern New Mexico and west Texas issued warnings of possible power interruptions. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Firefighters walk up a hillside in Eagar on June 9. A spot fire at the edge of the larger blaze prompted the few residents left in Springerville and the neighboring community of Eagar to flee. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Tom Hansen, left, and John Deublein, who both evacuated from Springerville, talk outside Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside, Ariz., on June 9. The school has been set up as a temporary evacuation center for residents affected by the wildfire. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. A firefighter starts a backburn operation in an attempt to control the Wallow Fire along Highway 260 near Eagar on June 9. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Yellow police tape indicating that the residents have evacuated hangs on a trailer home in Springerville on June 9. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Amelia Hernandez, left, chats with Becky Coffman who evacuated from Eager with her seven children, on June 9. The two met up at the evacuation shelter at Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside Arizona, west of the fire. Hernandez teaches some of the children at the Headstart center in Eager. The wildfire has consumed 386,000 acres of forest land since it began 11 days before. The massive wildfire continued to spread in eastern Arizona threatening high voltage electricity lines that transmit power from a nuclear power station to more than 300,000 customers in New Mexico and Texas. (Rick D'elia / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Fire crew members sharpen their tools as they prepare for a backburn operation in Eagar, Ariz., on Wednesday, June 8. A raging forest fire in eastern Arizona has scorched an area the size of Phoenix, threatening thousands of residents and emptying towns as the flames moved toward New Mexico. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. An aerial view of the Wallow fire on June 8 from the MODIS instrument on board the Aqua satellite. The blaze has blackened about 389,000 acres and destroyed 11 buildings, primarily in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. No serious injuries have been reported. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. Transmission lines from the Springerville Generating Station stretch south toward the plume of smoke being generated by the Wallow Fire burning near Springerville, Ariz., on June 8. The raging forest fire in eastern Arizona that has forced thousands from their homes headed Wednesday for a pair of transmission lines that supply electricity to hundreds of thousands of people as far east as Texas. (Susan Montoya Bryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. From left, Cheyann Alba, her uncle Mark White and cousin Chelsea Soderberg evacuate with their family's horses as the Wallow Fire approaches in Eagar, Ariz., on June 8. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Firefighter Jan Koch poses for a portrait with his face covered in soot after working the Wallow Wildfire in Springerville, Ariz., on June 7. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Miles of smoke billow skyward from the Wallow Fire on June 7 near Greer, Arizona. Officials say the blaze has already burned 486 square miles and winds have been driving the flames 5 to 8 miles a day since the fire began a week ago. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Wayne Lutz takes a break from raking dead grass as he tries to protect his house from the Wallow Wildfire in Eagar, Ariz. on June 7. A stubborn wildfire in eastern Ariz. that has forced the evacuation of as many as 3,000 people flared out of control for a 10th day on Tuesday and advanced on two more mountain towns near New Mexico. At midday Tuesday, fire officials said the so-called Wallow Fire had charred more than 311,000 acres since it erupted on May 29, and now ranks as the second-largest wildfire in Arizona's history. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. Public information officer Theresa Mendoza walks on a ridge top as the Wallow Fire burns behind her outside of Eagar, Ariz. on June 8. A raging forest fire in eastern Ariz. has scorched an area the size of Phoenix, threatening thousands of residents and emptying towns as the flames race toward New Mexico. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. A view of the Wallow Wildfire is pictured in the distance seen along the U.S. Route 180 as smoke fills the sky in Luna, New Mexico on June 6. A wildfire that has charred more than 350 square miles in eastern Ariz. forced the evacuation of a third town on Monday and crept near populated areas along the New Mexico border as it raged out of control for a ninth day. The so-called Wallow Fire, burning about 250 miles northeast of Phoenix and stretching to near the Arizona-New Mexico border, ranks as the third-largest fire on record in Ariz. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Fire crew members from Redding, Calif., prepare for a back burn operation during the Wallow fire in Eagar, Ariz., Wednesday, June 8. A raging forest fire in eastern Ariz. has scorched an area the size of Phoenix, threatening thousands of residents and emptying towns as the flames raced toward New Mexico. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Southwest Area Fire Management public information officer Jim Whittington points to a fire map during a news conference on June 8 in Springerville, Ariz.. Hundreds of thousands of acres have burned in eastern Ariz. prompting evacuations by residents. Smoke loomed over the twin towns of Eager and Springerville, home to about 7,000 people north of the fire. (Eric Thayer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Former mayor and volunteer Kay Dyson listens to a press conference about the Wallow fire on June 8 in Springerville, Ariz. Hundreds of thousands of acres have burned in eastern Arizona prompting evacuations by residents. Smoke loomed over the twin towns of Eager and Springerville, home to about 7,000 people north of the fire. (Eric Thayer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. A water dropping helicopter swoops by the burning Wallow Fire outside of Eagar, Ariz., Wednesday, June 8. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. A firefighter sleeps at the incident command post for the Wallow fire June 8 in Springerville, Ariz.. Hundreds of thousands of acres have burned in eastern Arizona prompting evacuations by residents. (Eric Thayer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Smoke from the Wallow Wildfire surround trees in Eagar, Ariz. June 7. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/16/2011 9:10:09 PM ET 2011-06-17T01:10:09

Residents on the outskirts of Sierra Vista, Ariz., were told to evacuate Thursday, after 40-foot flames jumped a highway and high winds briefly grounded an air attack.

The wildfire in southern Arizona's Coronado National Forest is within 10 miles of Sierra Vista, population 40,000, and has destroyed or damaged at least 40 houses and 10 other structures over 14 square miles, or 9,500 acres.

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Officials on Thursday closed off a 12-mile stretch of State Route 92 due to the conditions from the Monument fire. One county official driving along a still open section of SR 92 said he saw flames as tall as 40 feet on either side of the highway Thursday afternoon.

Police and fire officials used sirens and speakers to exhort residents in the unincorporated area of about 3,200 homes to flee, azcentral.com reported.

Many people trying to flee were caught in traffic jams as roadblocks impeded their progress, azcentral.com reported.

Hundreds of residents in canyon areas outside the city had evacuated over the previous two days and more than 500 firefighters are attacking the blaze.

During the peak burning time Thursday afternoon, the fire is "probably going to look like a bomb went off," said fire information officer Dale Thompson. The next three days will be tough on the fire lines because of the winds gusting up to 40 mph, he said.

Winds and searing temperatures also were to move into New Mexico, where firefighters battling a blaze that surrounded Carlsbad Caverns National Park had it 70 percent contained and it was no longer threatening the park's visitors center and employee housing. The fire started Monday, charred about 30,500 acres of desert scrub and forced the park to close.

Interstate 25 reopened at 4 a.m. Thursday after being closed for four days because of the wildfire near Raton, N.M. However, Exit 454 in New Mexico and exit 2 in Colorado were to remain off limits Thursday because of the blaze burning on about 26,000 acres. Some nearby residents were able to return home Wednesday.

Winds feed Wallow fire
Arizona's Wallow fire, the largest in state history, grew again to 760 square miles, or 487,016 acres, as of Thursday morning, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It remained 29 percent contained, but fire managers are worried that expected gusts of up to 45 mph could put pressure on the eastern edge of the fire.

They're especially concerned about the fire burning in the Blue Range area south of Alpine. The least secure part of firefighters' lines and closest to the nearest town still threatened, Luna, N.M., where about 200 people live.

A nearly completed line of cut fuels and intentionally burned areas between Luna and the fire itself should be completed by Thursday morning, and fire commanders expressed confidence late Wednesday that it would hold.

"We feel we have enough room out there," said Jerome Macdonald, who leads one of three incident management teams assigned to the massive blaze. "We'll have a mile and a half burned out in front of it."

More than 4,600 firefighters are assigned to the Wallow fire.

A single campfire in the Bear Wallow wilderness was the fire's "most likely cause," said Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest supervisor Chris Knopp. He confirmed that investigators had questioned two people but declined to say any more about the investigation. He called them "persons of interest," not suspects.

When forest officials were first called to the fire May 29, they spotted a fire near a campfire, Knopp said. Officials also saw a separate fire about three miles away, but they were unsure if it had been sparked by the campfire, he said.

"I just hope they identify the people responsible for this," Knopp said.

Resort towns threatened
Hundreds of firefighters have been working for days along the New Mexico line to keep the flames out of Luna. Thousands of others are working the rest of the fire, including around three mountain resort towns in Arizona.

Those residents still under evacuation could be allowed to go home by the weekend, Macdonald said. Alpine and Greer are under little fire threat now, but dangers such as burned trees that would topple must be removed before the area is reopened.

Story: After fire, hungry bears go after rotting food

About 2,400 people remain evacuated from Alpine and Greer and smaller vacation enclaves after about 300 were allowed to return to the town of Nutrioso on Wednesday, said Brannon Eagar, the chief sheriff's deputy in Apache County. On Sunday, all 7,000 people evacuated from the towns of Springerville and Eagar were allowed to go home.

The blaze officially became the largest in state history on Wednesday when new mapping showed it exceeded the previous record-holder, the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire, which burned 732 square miles, or 469,000 acres, and destroyed 491 buildings. Though larger in size, the Wallow Fire has destroyed just 32 homes and four rental cabins. About 5,000 acres of it were burning in New Mexico.

Some questioned the Forest Service for not putting fire restrictions in place after a winter with well below-average snowfall and extremely dry conditions.

Asked about his decision, Knopp pulled out a picture of Springerville on May 19, after 6 inches of snow had fallen.

"It seems pretty foolish for the forest to implement fire restrictions when there was just snow on the ground," he said. "If I had it to do over again, I would probably do the same thing. If I had known a fire would start, I would do it differently."

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Some in the region think differently.

Toby Dahl was evacuated from Escudilla, N.M., near the Arizona border and spent six days in a temporary RV park over 60 miles away in Pie Town, N.M. Fire restrictions should have been in place, despite the recent snow, he said.

Dahl, 62, said his place got only 11 inches of snow all winter, compared with nearly 80 inches last year.

"I don't have a degree or anything but I can tell you, you just don't let anybody into the forest under these circumstances," he said.

He wasn't sure what should happen to those responsible for igniting the blaze. But he said, "Something has to be done to make people think."

'Terrible for everyone'
Teresa Shawver, 61, who lives on a small ranch in Quemado, N.M., said she would want the perpetrators to get "the max, whatever the law would allow," if the fire was set intentionally.

"If it was an accident, something got away from them, then I have a different view on that," Shawver said.

The fire was "terrible for everybody around here," she said. "But if it was just an accident, then that's what it was."

A third Arizona fire had burned 309 square miles and was 60 percent contained despite high winds and heat.

Story: Wildfire season off to a raging start across Southwest, South

Elsewhere around the West Thursday, crews fought smaller fires near Yakima, Wash., Veyo, Utah, Westcliffe, Colo., and Fort Carson, Colo.

Fires have devoured hundreds of square miles in the drought-stricken Southwest and Texas since wildfire season began several weeks ago. And the outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, calls for fire potential to be above normal in those areas through September, but normal or less than normal across the rest of the West.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: El Paso issues air quality advisory

  1. Closed captioning of: El Paso issues air quality advisory

    >> in this country, our friends in el paso woke up to this site today, smoke from the arizona wildfire, combined with desert dust to create a thick haze, thick enough to prompt public health warnings to the elderly and people with respiratory problems warning to stay inside. it improved enough this afternoon to lift the haze, most of it and the warnings.

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