May 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Wildfire puts Los Alamos National Lab on evacuation standby

The Cerro Pelado Fire burning in the mountains as seen from the sky.

The Cerro Pelado Fire. Photo: National Wildfire Coordinating Group

One of the many growing wildfires in New Mexico is forcing residents near Los Alamos National Laboratory to prepare for possible evacuations.

Why it matters: Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of the nation's premier nuclear labs and is where the world's first atomic bomb was developed during World War II.

Driving the news: Authorities announced Monday that Los Alamos County and Los Alamos National Lab would be placed on "set" status because of the expanding Cerro Pelado Fire. Communities use the "Ready, Set, Go" status before evacuating.

  • “Set” means Los Alamos-area residents need an evacuation plan, a “go bag,” and evacuation and contact information.
  • The “go” stage would give everyone a 24-hour window to evacuate.
  • Los Alamos National Lab, or LANL, said Monday it would begin maximum telework for all non-mission essential employees.

Details: The Cerro Pelado Fire has ballooned to 68 square miles in the Jemez Mountains and is only 11% contained.

  • More than 1,000 personnel are on-site to fight the inferno amid frequent windstorms and a lack of rain.
  • The National Interagency Fire Center reports New Mexico currently has seven other wildfires in the southern and northern parts of the state forcing evacuations and destroying homes.
Smoke from the Cerro Pelado Fire as seen from Los Alamos as cars drive on a highway.
The Cerro Pelado Fire seen from Los Alamos. Photo: National Wildfire Coordinating Group

If evacuations are ordered for Los Alamos, LANL facilities would be placed on a standardized “safe shutdown" process to ensure the safety and security of each building, according to its procedures and materials on hand.

  • Lab facilities are designed and operated to protect the materials inside. Radiological and other potentially hazardous materials are stored in containers engineered and tested to withstand heat from a fire, LANL said.

What's next: High wind and low humidity over the past two days have caused the Cerro Pelado Fire to grow, but officials say the blaze near Los Alamos is burning slowly.

Yes, but: New Mexico's unpredictable weather could change that and quickly place Los Alamos in danger.

Don't forget: Around 96% of New Mexico is under severe drought or worse, according to the Federal Drought Monitor.

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