At 43,597 acres, the Conchas fire is still zero percent contained

Updated 10:15 pm: The Las Conchas fire, at an estimated 44,000 acres, entered Los Alamos National Laboratory property and is still zero percentcontained. EVACUATION IS NOW MANDATORY for Los Alamos.


Evacs are still voluntary for White Rock but Los Alamos evacuees are instructed not to relocate to White Rock in case it's evacuated, too. 

Here's the latest from the lab:

6/27/2011 17:07 - Fire crews have contained a spot fire that started in a remote area of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Emergency officials say the Las Conchas fire, which had burned to the southern edge of New Mexico State Route 4 at the Lab's southwest boundary, crossed the road to the north early this afternoon. Air crews dumped water at the site within the Lab's Technical Area 49 and brought the blaze under control. The area had been thinned of ground fuels in recent years. About one acre burned and the Lab has detected no off-site releases of contamination. No other fires are currently burning on Lab property, no facilities face immediate threat, and all nuclear and hazardous materials are accounted for and protected. Environmental sites are being monitored and air quality experts are coordinating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Las Conchas fire has burned an estimated 49,000 acres in forests, canyons, and mesas south and west of the Lab. The Lab will remain closed on Tuesday, June 28, and is supporting Los Alamos County as it conducts a staged, mandatory evacuation of the town site. Los Alamos County residents should tune to 1610-AM for updated information. A Joint Information Center has been established at the Regional Development Corporation, 2209 Miguel Chavez Rd. in Santa Fe. 

An earlier LANL press release describes evac routes:

Los Alamos, NM � NM502 (Main Hill Rd) is OPEN into Los Alamos, however, individuals should only be entering Los Alamos townsite if it is absolutely necessary due to the evacuation now underway. The Truck Route is only open to departing traffic - vehicles may not use it to enter Los Alamos. SR 4 is open to White Rock from NM502. Residents leaving Los Alamos are strongly urged NOT to evacuate to White Rock, in case that community must be evacuated later on.
 Pajarito Rd is only open to LANL traffic.
Group 1, 2 and Royal Crest Trailer Park have all been notified to evacuate at this point using Reverse 911.  Group 3 has not yet been notified to evacuate. The County is reassessing use of Rendija Canyon for evacuation for Barranca Mesa and North Mesa. The soft sand in the bottom of the canyon is causing several vehicles to get stuck. As soon as an update about the new route is available, media will be notified.

To stay informed, check #nmfire on Twitter for the most recent news. Call 505-662-4333 for more info and, if you're in one of the groups to be evacuated, watch your phone for a reverse 911 call.

A previous press release describes where the fire penetrated LANL's borders:

A one-acre spot fire was reported in Water Canyon, within Technical Area 49, on the Lab’s southwestern boundary.  Reports from the field say the fire has jumped to the north across New Mexico State Route 4.

From the folks at Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a word of caution:

Our main concern is that the Las Conchas fire is about 3 1/2 miles from Area G, the dumpsite that has been in operation since the late 1950s/early 1960s.  There are 20,000 to 30,000 55-gallons drums of plutonium contaminated waste (containing solvents, chemicals and toxic materials) sitting in fabric tents above ground.  These drums are destined for WIPP.  In a Tuesday Wall Street Journal article, LANL officials confirmed the existence of the drums but stated that they are safe from potential fire activity. Click here to read more.

Los Alamos, NM � Los Alamos County officials are reporting the fire is now threatening Los Alamos. They are ordering a mandatory evacuation which will begin and proceed in this order: Group 1: Western, Quemazon, Ponderosa; Group 2: North Community, Barranca Mesa, North Mesa; Group 3: East of Diamond and the remainder of the town site. White Rock is NOT being evacuated at this time. Residents in Los Alamos should NOT go to White Rock to stay in case it is later evacuated.


Advance Notification about Evacuation Routes: Residents in White Rock would use SR 4 to NM 502 to evacuate. Residents in Los Alamos in the Downtown, North Community, Quemazon, Eastern, and Western areas would use either the Truck Route (East Jemez Rd) or Trinity Drive to NM502. Royal Crest residents would use the Truck Route to SR 4 to NM502. Residents on the mesas (North Mesa, Barranca Mesa) would use a graded road in the bottom of Rendija Canyon, the same emergency route used during the Cerro Grande Fire in May 2000. The road has been graded today as a precautionary measure and the gate through San Ildefonso property to NM 502 will be open. Under a mandatory evacuation, residents are reminded they should take only their most essential belongings, including medication and pets. Large vehicles such as RVs should not attempt to use the road through Rendija Canyon due to the low water crossings in the road. The road is graded to accommodate passenger cars, trucks or SUVs, not oversized vehicles.

A press release from LANL this afternoon said the fire had not yet reached LANL property.

Shelter is available for evacuees at the Big Rock/Santa Claran Casino in Española. Several hotels, including the Lodge, Plaza Real and Hotel St Francis in Santa Fe, are offering discounted rates  ($79, $99 and $99 respectively) for fire evacuees and their pets. The Santa Fe Animal Shelter (983-4309 x606) is offering to house evacuated animals.

Residents of Los Alamos County should  register with the county's emergency management system to receive updates. (Go to and click on the Public Safety link.)

LANL spokesman Kevin Roark tells SFR the fire still has not reached lab property. Roark also says the combustion of legacy contaminants around the lab is "not a concern."

"If you look back at [the 2000] Cerro Grande [fire], the smoke from that fire was no more or less contaminated than the smoke from your average forest fire," Roark says.

The New Mexico Environment Department is less sanguine about potential contamination from legacy radioactive waste dumping in areas near the lab.

"We are somewhat concerned about that, absolutely," Rita Bates, the planning and policy section chief for the NMED's Air Quality Bureau, tells SFR. "We're researching it right now, and we're putting a plan into place."

All non-essential LANL employees are instructed not to show up Monday. The lab will also be on "essential services" staffing only on Tuesday.

LANL employees are advised to "check local news sources, the LANL Update Hotline 505-667-6622 and the LANL web page for updates."

Since it began, the fire has swelled to 43,597 acres, New Mexico Fire Information Officer Dan Ware tells SFR. Ware explains that the actual acreage was confirmed by a flyover early this morning.

Both Los Alamos and nearby White Rock are under voluntary evacuation. Some residents who live closer to the fire, such as in Las Conchas or Cochiti Mesa, were evacuated yesterday (see photos below). The Santa Fe Office of Emergency Management reports that Santa Fe "is preparing to serve as host city in the event of evacuations from Los Alamos County."

Here's an awe-inducing time-lapse video courtesy of Michael Zeiler:

Bandelier National Monument and the Valles Caldera National Preserve have closed due to "extreme fire danger."

The Las Conchas fire began around 1 pm Saturday in the Santa Fe National Forest. According to the state's fire information website, the cause is still unknown.

Though the fire has not yet reached the lab itself, in a press release this morning, officials say all hazardous materials are accounted for:

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico June 27, 2011  Los Alamos National Laboratory emergency officials are closely watching wind directions this morning as the Las Conchas fire continues to burn southwest of the Lab.

           Winds generally from the northwest overnight have helped keep the fire from entering Lab property, but forecasts call for a change by mid-day.

LANL's Emergency Operations Center remains operational.

           Observation aircraft are currently conducting aerial surveys to gauge the fire’s growth and current size.
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.

Environmental specialists are mobilized and monitoring air quality, but say the principal concern is smoke.

The Lab last night announced it would be closed Monday.

           “It’s been a very long night for the fire crews,” said Lab Director Charles McMillan. “There has been an outpouring of support from the region, the state, and the federal government and for that we are profoundly grateful.”

According to an earlier press release , Gov Martinez visited around midnight last night:

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico June 27, 2011 -- New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez came to the Los Alamos National Laboratory Emergency Operations Center just before midnight, June 26.

“Our top priority is the safety of the people of our communities and property. I’m grateful to the state and local crews who are working so hard to keep damage to a minimum,” the governor said.

Los Alamos County Councilor Sharon Stover also arrived, noting “We’ve got a good team here, with folks who were here for the Cerro Grande fire, so I feel very confident about their being able to manage this. In addition, we’re getting a lot of support from neighboring communities.”

“We’d just like to thank the Governor and the leadership from surrounding areas who have been so quick to offer their support,” said Laboratory Director Charles McMillan.

A Joint Information Center has been established at the Regional Development Corporation, 2209 Miguel Chaves Rd. in Santa Fe.  Media should call 505-820-1226 for updates.

Closer to Santa Fe, the Pacheco Fire expanded during Saturday's hot, windy conditions to 9,334 9,927 acres. State fire crews report, however, that the fire expanded to the northeast, away from population centers. Santa Fe residents should nonetheless be prepared for several more days of smoke (click here to visit the state's Environment Department website for smoke conditions).

For more information and frequent updates on the Las Conchas and other fires--including another, south of Albuquerque, that ignited Sunday--visit The photo at the beginning of this blog post is a screen shot taken from Michael Zeiler's time-lapse film, taken from atop his house, of the Las Conchas fire, on Sunday. Photos below were taken along I-25 at or near the Cochiti Pueblo exit Monday morning.

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