Los Alamos Fire

June 27, 2011 by staff 

Los Alamos FireLos Alamos Fire, A fast-moving wildfire south of The Northern New Mexico Los Alamos nuclear laboratory has destroyed at least 30 structures, including some houses, and has the potential to grow much larger, fire officials said Monday. The fire that started Sunday has forced the closure of major U.S. nuclear laboratories, stirring memories of a devastating fire more than a decade ago that destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings in the area. Los Alamos County Fire Chief Doug Tucker said the fires have destroyed at least 30 structures in the Cochiti Mesa and Las Conchas areas south of the lab. It was unclear how many were homes.

More than 100 residents were forced to leave their homes when the fire grew to about 175 square miles and rise to a mile southwest of the major nuclear laboratories in the nation. Some residents fled with nothing but the shirt on his back. No injuries were reported. Overnight winds from the northwest kept the fire from moving to the property studied, although the forecast called for a change in wind patterns at noon.

Famed northern New Mexico laboratory, where scientists developed and tested the first atomic bomb during World War II, activated its emergency operations center overnight and cut natural gas to some areas as a precaution.

Officials said that all hazardous and radioactive materials are being protected.

The laboratory was closed on Monday and Los Alamos and White Rock received about voluntary evacuation orders.

On the outskirts of Santa Fe, emergency officials were preparing to provide shelter for evacuees of Cochiti Mesa and Las Conchas.

The fire started on private land about 20 miles southwest of Los Alamos. Flames and smoke could be seen from the outskirts of Albuquerque, about 130 miles away.

On the morning of Monday, the Pajarito Plateau is where the lab was inundated by thick fog. In the southwest corner of the plateau, smoky white canyons above Cochiti reservoir and at the north end heavy plumes of black smoke rose into the air.

Cars headed by the two-lane road that snakes from Pojoaque to Los Alamos are filled with the belongings of residents fled.

The fire was eerily similar to one of the most destructive fires in the history of New Mexico.

The fire, the Cerro Grande burned some 190 square miles and caused over one billion and property damage. About 400 homes and buildings in the ownership of 100 laboratories were destroyed in the fire.

The fire also expressed concern about toxic waste and radioactive smoke, but spokesman Kevin Roark said the lab that no contaminants were released in the Cerro Grande fire.

Specialists in laboratory environment were mobilized and monitoring air quality on Monday, he said, but the main concern was the smoke.

However, there were doubts about whether firefighters would be willing, if the fire moved to the main laboratory areas.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy’s inspector general issued a report saying that Los Alamos County Fire Department were not sufficiently trained to handle fires alone could deal with hazardous or radioactive materials in the laboratory in Los Alamos.

Laboratory and fire department officials at the time said the report focused too much on past problems and not enough on what has been done to solve them. Some problems were also noted in previous reports.

Greg Mello, the anti-nuclear watchdog Los Alamos Study Group, said the group does not have enough information “to formulate views on security at this point.”

“It’s important to remember that the site has natural hazards … and Murphy’s Law is still about the best in the state law applied.”

Meanwhile, the largest fire in Arizona history was 82 percent contained after burning through nearly 2,200 square miles in the White Mountains in northeastern Arizona. The fire started May 29 and destroyed 32 homes. Believed to have been caused by a campfire.

And in Colorado, about 100 firefighters are battling a fire that broke out in a canyon northwest of Boulder.

Firefighters have 340 homeowners on alert to evacuate. No structures are immediately threatened by fire.

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