Los Alamos Lab Threatened by Wildfire

Lab says radioactive material safeguarded against the flames.

ByABC News
June 27, 2011, 2:25 PM

June 27, 2011— -- A wildfire is burning out of control just one mile from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation's top national security research facilities where many hazardous and radioactive materials are housed.

Winds appear to be keeping the flames from the critical New Mexico laboratory, but officials fear a change in the winds could be dangerous.

A statement on the Los Alamos National Laboratory's website indicates that "winds generally from the northwest overnight have helped keep the fire from entering Lab property, but forecasts call for a change by mid-day."

Officials said in a statement that all harmful material have been surveyed and properly stowed.

"Overnight, as a precaution, the Lab cut natural gas to technical areas in LANL's remote southwest area. All hazardous and radioactive materials remain accounted for and are appropriately protected, as are key Lab facilities such as its proton accelerator and supercomputing centers," a statement from the lab said.

The lab shut down all operations today as firefighting crews battle the raging flames.

Los Alamos Lab Threatened by Wildfire

"It's been a very long night for the fire crews," said lab director Charles McMillan in a statement.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has deployed National Guard troops to assist in evacuations and any emergency response and said firefighters were using "burnouts" to clear the area of fuel for the fire around the lab.

At the governor's request, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a Fire Management Assistance Grant, which will pay 75 percent of the firefighting costs.

The Las Conchas Fire burst into flames around 1 p.m. on Sunday, according to a report by InciWeb, which provides the Incident Information System and compiles information from government agencies. The report indicates that Sunday's weather conditions included very high temperatures, low humidity and high winds, which all contributed to the inferno. Forecasts today call for a change in winds which would jeopardize lab property.

The Lab's Emergency Operations Center remains operational and observation aircrafts have been deployed to monitor the fire's growth and size.

Several nearby areas including Bandelier National Monument, Cochiti Mesa, Las Conchas and campgrounds near the fire were evacuated Sunday. Voluntary evacuations were also issued for White Rock and Los Alamos.

Environmental specialists are stationed in the area and are measuring air quality, but say their main concern is smoke.