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Fire battle begins to turn corner

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Fire chief expresses elation with progress

By Carol A. Clark

Despite the fact that spot fires entered Los Alamos Canyon and also jumped across Camp May Road causing some tense moments for firefighters, Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker said Wednesday evening, “Today was a great day!”

“We’re starting to turn the corner on this fire,” Tucker said. “The Type 1 Team did a hell of a job today along with our Los Alamos firefighters and any fire coming on lab property or in to town has been greatly reduced. Tomorrow the townsite’s going to see much less smoke.”

Tucker explained that all the recent mitigation work around Los Alamos Canyon had alleviated any real threat posed by the spot fires.

Fire Marshal/Assistant Fire Chief Michael Thompson said helicopters were easily able to drop water on the spot fires in Los Alamos Canyon.

During a news briefing Wednesday night, Tucker said that preventive burns just outside the western boundary of Los Alamos National Laboratory have been successful in holding off the Las Conchas Fire, which has scorched 80,000 acres since Sunday afternoon.

“In my professional opinion, there is a less than 10 percent chance of spot fires on lab property this evening, diminishing tomorrow,” he said.

Firefighters began setting “back burns” on the west side of New Mexico State Route 501 around mid-morning Wednesday. Those operations were declared complete by evening. The burns were intended to remove available fuel from the Las Conchas Fire, which has consumed more than 60,000 acres on two sides of the 37-square-mile LANL site. It also burned a less than one-acre area at TA-49.

“What I witnessed today was an incredibly professional job by men and women who are risking their lives to save our community and this Laboratory,” LANL Director Charles McMillan said. “I could feel the heat of the fire on my face as I watched from the roof of our Emergency Operations Center.”

No wildfires are burning on laboratory property and all of the LANL’s nuclear and hazardous materials, including its waste and environmental remediation sites, are “safe, accounted for, and protected,” he said.

LANL announced it would remain closed through Friday. Los Alamos County officials have also announced that the county will remain on “Essential Services Only” status through Friday due to the on-going emergency with the Las Conchas wildfire.

County facilities such as the libraries, Aquatic Center and Ice Rink for Bear Camp continue to be closed.

Due to the wildfire, the Annual Kiwanis Independence Day Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza at Overlook Park has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled for another date, according to Kiwanis President Fran Berting.