2011-07-02 00:20:48"We have seen fire behavior we have never seen before" -- CNN
John Hartz
John Hartz

Firefighters scramble to contain blaze near nuclear lab in New Mexico

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 1, 2011 4:49 a.m. EDT

(CNN) -- A wildfire roaring through a New Mexico forest forced the closure of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for a fifth straight day Friday as crews scrambled to contain the blaze.

The Las Conchas fire is burning nearly unabated through the Santa Fe National Forest and Valles Caldera National Preserve.

By late Thursday, it had charred 93,678 acres and strong winds threatened to be the firefighters' greatest challenge.

"We have seen fire behavior we have never seen before," Fire Chief Doug Tucker told reporters.

More than 1,200 personnel, manning 52 engines, are battling the flames. More than 10,000 people have been evacuated from their homes due to the threat.

Officials also dispelled rumors that residents, who were worried about their homes, could return to Los Alamos.

"Folks right now are hurting us," Police Chief Wayne Torpy said Thursday.

"Los Alamos County called the evacuation and Los Alamos County will be the one that repeals the evacuation ... You're going to erase the success of our evacuations."

Residents' homes had not been impacted by the fire, Torpy said.

Jerome MacDonald, operations section chief for the multistate southwest area incident management team, said fire officials flanked the blaze on the east side Thursday in an attempt to curb high winds from the southwest.

The wildfire touches the south border of the Los Alamos nuclear lab's 40-square-mile facility and comes close to its western border.

The Las Conchas fire began on private land Sunday and expanded into the Santa Fe National Forest and Jemez Ranger District, according to InciWeb, an online database that keeps track of natural disasters such as fires and floods.

The Las Conchas fire is one of several burning in the region.

The Donaldson fire south of the town of Hondo and U.S. Highway 70 grew 68 percent on Thursday, consuming an estimated 72,650 acres, according InciWeb. It is 10 percent contained.

The Pacheco fire continues to burn in the Pecos Wilderness, two miles north of the Santa Fe Ski Basin. It has scorched 10,116 acres since it began June 18.

The blaze was 27 percent contained early Friday, with the potential for growth considered low, according to InciWeb.