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Fire Burns Near Los Alamos

May 8, 2000

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) _ A forest fire spread to 5,000 acres today, forcing hundreds of people from their homes and virtually shutting down the Los Alamos national nuclear lab.

As the blaze burned about half a mile away, most of the explosive material at the Los Alamos National Laboratory was safely protected in nonflammable concrete and metal buildings surrounded by earthen berms, said John Gustafson, a lab spokesman.

The closest radioactive materials were about three miles from the fire, and those materials also were stored in bunkers designed to keep fires out, the lab said.

Only essential personnel reported to work today at the lab. Public schools were closed in Los Alamos County, as were most businesses in the northern New Mexico town.

An estimated 1,000 people were told to leave their homes or had already fled as the fire burned out of control, said Steve Coburn, Los Alamos fire marshal.

No serious injuries were reported.

The fire was burning in mixed conifer trees and thick stands of ponderosa pine across several canyons at the foot of the Jemez Mountains, said Stephen Fettig, a National Parks Service wildlife biologist.

The fire was set Thursday to improve the watershed in the Bandelier National Monument, which is known for its ancient Indian dwellings and artifacts. On Friday, it jumped fire lines and scorched about 300 acres, 35 of them outside the area intended to be burned. Firefighters thought they had it under control Saturday, but shifting wind rekindled the blaze Sunday.

Strong gusts continued today, blowing ash and thick smoke into Los Alamos.

``The ash was falling in the trailer park,″ said Corinne Cisneros, who was evacuated from a her mobile home on the western edge of Los Alamos. ``From my kitchen window, when it topped the mountain, you could see the flames and the smoke.″

Cisneros, a bank teller, was sent to the nearby White Rock Baptist Church, where about 60 evacuees were being matched with church families who volunteered to give them a place to stay.

Coburn said 400 to 600 people were assigned to battle the fire this morning.

In south-central New Mexico, a fire that started Sunday in Ruidoso burned at least 3,500 acres and caused the evacuation of about 150 homes, officials said.

___

On the Net:

Los Alamos National Laboratory: http://www.lanl.gov/worldview

Bandelier National Monument: http://www.nps.gov/band

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