Wildfire triggers evacuation for Los Alamos laboratory

SANTA FE, New Mexico Mon Jun 27, 2011 12:04am EDT

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SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Voluntary evacuations have been issued for Los Alamos, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is threatened by a fast-moving wildfire that broke out in northern New Mexico on Sunday, authorities said.

The Las Conchas Fire flared early Sunday afternoon around 12 miles southwest of Los Alamos, charring about 3,500 acres and endangering the nation's nuclear weapons laboratory and its surrounding communities, said Lawrence Lujan, a spokesman for the Santa Fe National Forest.

"We have homes and we have the labs, so it's a very, very big concern, not only locally but nationally and globally," Lujan said.

"This fire is very complex. We have a national type one team coming in because of the nature of the fire," he said.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has ordered the New Mexico National Guard to Los Alamos to provide support for the ongoing efforts to protect lives, property and critical infrastructure threatened by the fire.

"My administration will make every effort to provide support for local emergency response crews," said Governor Martinez.

"With evacuations in place and the fire burning quickly, it is important that residents in the surrounding communities remain attentive to the local emergency operations' alerts and orders," she added.

Martinez said she had requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issue a Fire Management Assistance Declaration for the Las Conchas Fire to provide further assistance.

The blaze continued to throw flames a half mile ahead of the fire pushed by high winds and hot dry conditions. It remained zero percent contained late Sunday.

Bandelier National Monument has been evacuated, as have the communities of Cochiti Mesa and Las Conchas. Voluntary evacuations have been issued for Los Alamos and nearby community White Rock.

Jeff Berger, a spokesman for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the world's first atomic bomb was developed, said the fire was rapidly advancing but had not yet reached lab property.

"Lab emergency crews have been dispatched across the lab. Their job is to protect key facilities and materials," Berger said. "Protected areas include all hazardous and radioactive facilities and our proton accelerator and supercomputing centers."

Berger said the laboratory would be closed on Monday for all activities and non-essential employees.

Fire crews are currently battling 41 large wildfires in the United States, which have torched more than 1.4 million acres, according to the Idaho-based National Fire Information Center.

Most of the active blazes are in the Southwest and Texas, where scant rainfall has created tinder-dry conditions.

(Reporting by Zelie Pollon; Writing by Tim Gaynor: Editing by Eric Johnson)