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Fire forces Los Alamos evacuation

Out-of-control wildfire threatens town, research lab prepares

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (UPI) | June 28, 2011

Residents were ordered to evacuate Los Alamos, N.M., as an out-of-control wildfire was at the town's edge and buffeted the secretive U.S. military nuclear lab.

A Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman said the blaze, at the facility's southern boundary, remained a few miles from key structures on the 25,600-acre property.

Nuclear and other hazardous materials were in safe storage deep inside vaults within concrete and steel buildings, Kevin Roark told the Alibi newspaper of Albuquerque.

The lab would not comment on a Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety allegation that the wildfire was about 3 miles from a nuclear dumpsite containing tens of thousands of 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste.

The anti-nuclear watchdog group's Web site appeared hacked early Tuesday morning, a United Press International check indicated. Its Facebook page had six messages from people alerting the group of the possible hacking, including a message commenting on the timing of the incident happening "just as the fires started."

The wildfire, which began Sunday and exceeded 50,000 acres, or 78 square miles, early Tuesday, destroyed at least 30 homes and outbuildings south and west of Los Alamos, fire officials said.

"We don't have a hard number," Los Alamos Assistant Fire Chief Mike Thompson told the Albuquerque Journal.

Officials planned a flyover Tuesday morning to assess its scope.

The fire -- whose flames and smoke could be seen from Albuquerque, about 80 miles south -- caused erosion and runoff, with contaminants threatening the Rio Grande, officials said.

Roark told the Alibi, "There were not appreciable levels of radioactivity in the runoff."

After the Cerro Grande fire in 2000, which devastated Los Alamos and changed firefighting policies and strategies all across the West, the lab installed structures to prevent heavy runoff, he said.

Some residents evacuating the town were "calm and other people are really frantic," Sheila Luna told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

"The Conoco gas station ran out of gas last night, and at the next gas station I waited for 15 minutes before I could get the car filled up," she said. "That part was kind of scary to me."

Copyright 2011 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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