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UPDATED: Las Conchas Pushes Estimated 15,000 Acres North into Santa Clara

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7:30 p.m. – The Las Conchas Fire has spread an estimated 15,000 acres to the north into the Santa Clara canyon and pueblo, fire officials said.

Los Alamos, however, is “in the best shape we’ve been in since this thing started,” said Fire Chief Doug Tucker.

Fire crews built a strong line along State Road 501 to protect the city and the laboratories, and Tucker was confident the city is in good shape.

Winds today pushed the fire several miles north into the canyon, instead of east toward the city.  Though it is good news for the city, the fire is still growing quickly, burning an estimated 20,000 additional acres, with 15,000 acres to the north of the existing fire area. The total acreage burned is thought to be approximately 90,000, though more accurate numbers will become available through the night.

The focus for tonight and tomorrow will be on flanking the fire on the east and the west while following it north. Fire Operations Chief Jerome MacDonald said crews won’t try to get in front of the fire until there is a break in the fuel and weather.

Tomorrow’s plan consists of strengthening the lines already in place around State Road 501 and the lab boundary and putting more pressure on the east flank, MacDonald said. Winds are expected to blow up to 35 miles per hour out of the southwest.


2 p.m. — Crews worked Wednesday to burn lines ahead of the Las Conchas Fire, as the battle to contain the blaze which has already forced the evacuation of 12,000 people from Los Alamos continued into its fourth day.

At a press conference in hazy downtown Los Alamos at noon today, Los Alamos Fire Department Chief Doug Tucker pointed toward the mountains above town and said “That smoke you see now is a black line.”

Black lining, Tucker said, involves firefighters using a torch of diesel and gasoline to drip lit fuel onto the ground on a precise path. There are four separate levels of fire suppression workers are standing by as the line is burned, Tucker said, to prevent any accidental flare-ups.

The line is meant to cut off a corridor to Los Alamos National Laboratory and will run about four miles along State Road 501, at the western barrier of Los Alamos National Laboratory, beginning near the Camp May site by Pajarito Ski Hill, Tucker said.

Officials continue to say only one fire has been sparked at LANL, and it was less than an acre and put out quickly.

The fire has grown to almost 70,000 acres since it first started on Sunday, and is reported as three percent contained, though Tucker said at the Wednesday news conference he did not know where the containment has taken place.

Firefighters also continued fighting the blaze on Pajarito Mountain above town, in an effort to keep it out of the Los Alamos and Pajarito Canyons which run into lab property and residential areas.

“It’s still my priority to keep it out of those canyons,” Tucker said. “So far it hasn’t happened.”

Winds have been pushing mostly from the south, Tucker said, and the fire’s growth has mainly been northward. It has gone around the Camp May camping area and toward Santa Clara Canyon, Tucker said.

Meanwhile, LANL Director Charles McMillan said preliminary data from more than 60 air monitors around Los Alamos have demonstrated “what we see in this fire is exactly what we would see in any fire across New Mexico.”

LANL officials were pressed Wednesday about Area G, where 10,000 drums of plutonium-contaminated wasted are being stored above ground for future disposal, and continued to maintain there is no threat of the fire reaching those drums.

Also, Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy said police and more than 100 National Guardsman are patrolling the streets and stopping to identify anyone who isn’t immediately identifiable. About 50 residents did not evacuate when the order came Monday, and Torpy said he has heard of concerns from evacuated citizens there may be potential for looting or burglaries. There have been no such reports, he said.

 

 

 

 

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1:20 p.m. Fire crews began a series of targeted, preventative burns along the western edge of Los Alamos National Laboratory on Wednesday morning in an effort to further remove available fuels from the Las Conchas Fire.

A news release from nmfireinfo.com said observers may notice increased smoke coming from the LANL border. At this time there is no wildfire on Laboratory property.


12:35 p.m. Fire crews are working to build a black line, or defensive space, along State Road 501 and the Santa Clara Canyon to protect Los Alamos and White Rock from the Las Conchas Fire.

Get all the info, pictures and video from the fire at our Wildfire Page.

Los Alamos County Fire Chief Doug Tucker said at a noon press conference that the priority today will be putting out spot fires near Los Alamos and protecting the canyons, though he said there is no immediate danger to either town.

Until about 4 p.m., the fire is in a prime burn period with very little humidity, he said.  Though winds are picking up, Tucker said as long as the winds don’t come from the west, “we’re in good shape.”

In the black line, firefighters are working to offensively burn out all of the area so the fire can’t spread towards the labs.

Police Chief Wayne Torpy said there are still about 100 to 150 Los Alamos residents still in the city. Patrols are stopping anyone to make sure no one is victimizing the mostly-abandoned town.

For updated information on the air quality testing, read Journal Science writer John Fleck’s latest post.


10:55 a.m. Forest Service officials are reporting that the Las Conchas Fire has grown to 69,555 acres but remains just 3 percent contained, the Albuquerque Journal’s Phil Parker reports from Los Alamos.

To view a full news release on the morning update, click here.

No structures have been lost in Los Alamos or at the lab, but 30 structures, mostly homes, were burned before the fire spread to Los Alamos County, according to the latest update from KOAT-TV.

The fire is both burning toward and away from the city of Los Alamos. Wind shifts will determine how close it gets.

“All this smoke is coming from smoldering fires just waiting to pick up and go, so it’s really depending on Mother Nature and those winds,” Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker said at a briefing this morning. “I’d seriously believe it could go to 100,000 acres. I hope not, God I hope not.”

State Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware has said the largest forest fire in New Mexico history was the Ponil Complex Fire, which burned 92,500 acres near Cimarron in 2002, the Albuquerque Journal reported this morning.

Crews have managed to hold lines along the southern boundary of Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as along a highway on the edge of the community of Los Alamos, The Associated Press is reporting.

Fire information officer Rod Torrez says the key today will be keeping flames out of two canyons that stretch from the mountains into the community, the AP said.

As crews battle the flames, state and federal officials are monitoring the air.

Part of the effort will include a special twin-engine plane that was dispatched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the AP. The plane is outfitted with sensors that can collect detailed chemical and radiological air samples.

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7:45am 6/29/11 — Las Conchas Fire Meetings Set Today

Three community meetings are planned today for Los Alamos evacuees and residents affected by the Las Conchas Fire, and local authorities are urging those who have left their homes not to return just yet, KOB-TV is reporting.

The Los Alamos County Council will host a town hall meeting at 2 p.m. at the White Rock Baptist Church, 80 State Road 4, for White Rock residents and those who have been evacuated from Los Alamos, according to www.nmfireinfo.com.

Atomic City Transit will offer bus service from two shelters to the meeting: Pickup times are 12:45 p.m. at the Santa Claran Resort Center in Espanola and 1:15 p.m. at the Cities of Gold Hotel Conference Center.

Another community meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Madonna Parish Hall in Jemez Springs, off Highway 4 between mile markers 15 and 15.

Also at 2 p.m. there will be a meeting at the Cochiti Pueblo Community Center, 255 Cochiti Street, Cochiti Pueblo.

A meeting also is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at the Senior Center, 1 Kee Street, Santa Clara Pueblo, according to the fire information website.

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5:46am 6/29/11 — Las Conchas Fire Now 3 Percent Contained

If there’s a sliver of good news to be had on the terrifying Las Conchas Fire raging near Los Alamos and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, officials are reporting that what is threatening to be New Mexico’s largest wildfire is now 3 percent contained.

The latest reports put the acreage burned at 60,741 acres, according to the latest update from Tuesday night on www.nmfireinfo.com. But overnight infrared mapping is likely to change that figure this morning.

The Albuquerque Journal’s Phil Parker reported from Los Alamos this morning that the campfire smell in town was the strongest there since the fire began on Sunday.

Smoke settled overnight on the streets and people’s lawns like a dense fog, so thick that even the mountains above Los Alamos weren’t visible from the center of town, Parker wrote.

Los Alamos today remains a ghost town — its streets empty except for the occasional National Guard Humvee or police cruiser.

Firefighters had looked to Tuesday as a “make or break day” in their struggle to keep the fast-growing fire from the now-nearly deserted city of 12,000, but the fire refused to be tamed, creeping to within a half-mile of the closest home in the Quemazon neighborhood, Parker reported.

The number of firefighters on hand as reported last night was 341, including three hotshot crews and nine handcrews, but the number of firefighters could reach 600 to 800 today, and might even climb to 1,000 eventually, according to the Journal’s Juan Carlos Rodriguez.

Deputy incident commander Mike Bradley said Tuesday he expects the Las Conchas Fire to grow indefinitely, the Journal said.

While national news media have focused on the possible threat to the national lab’s nuclear materials and radioactive waste, a top state environmental regulator told the Journal’s John Fleck that ordinary forest fire smoke — not contamination from nuclear weapons work — is probably the biggest health threat from the fire burning along the lab’s southern and western edge.

Lab and firefighting officials also said Tuesday that there was little risk of fire at the lab’s Area G radioactive waste storage site, where more than 10,000 drums of radioactive waste are in temporary above-ground storage, the Journal said.

And weather forecasters are saying that firefighters battling blazes near Los Alamos and elsewhere in northern New Mexico can expect more of the same troubling weather today — hot, dry and windy conditions, the Journal reported.

 

 

 

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