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The Los Alamos Fire Department quickly extinguished a small fire that broke out across from TA-54 at TA-18 on Pajarito Road about 4 p.m. Thursday.
Pajarito Road, which has restricted access, was not closed during the incident, Los Alamos Fire Department Deputy Chief Justin Grider said.
The fire was about 100 meters off the road and was about five feet by 40 feet, Grider said.
“It was in the grass underneath some power lines,” Grider said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation but Grider has some theories.
“I am not an electrician but it could be something involving the power lines,” Grider said. “I was looking for a downed line but I did not see one. There were no tire tracks so it is unlikely it was man made. And we also joked it might be a suicidal squirrel, which caused a small fire during the Las Conchas Fire two years ago.”
Grider said originally five fire crews were dispatched but only one was needed.
The fire also was about 600 meters northwest of Area G, which is located at TA-54.
According to the lab website, Area G is the lab’s only active disposal area for low-level radioactive waste and is scheduled to close by the end of 2015, per the Consent Order with the State of New Mexico. It has 35 large, rectangular disposal pits and more than 200 disposal shafts.
“We know the public is very concerned about that area and so is the lab,” Grider said. “They have done a great job in mitigation in that area by putting in fire areas and taking away fire fuels. The area is assessed quarterly if not monthly.”
Grider said it is very unlikely a fire would ever threaten Area G.
“There is not enough fuel for the fire to get to Area G,” Grider said. “There would have to be a lightning strike or it would have to be man made.”
TA-18 was the home of the Los Alamos Critical Experiments Facility (LACEF). LACEF, which operated since 1946, was the last general-purpose nuclear experiments facility in the US. It was closed in 2007.
It supported a variety of programs that ranged from national security programs, such as the Nuclear Emergency Search Team, Strategic Defense Initiative research, and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty verification research, to development of instrumentation for nuclear waste assay and high-explosives detection. The primary purposes of LACEF were the design, construction, research, development, and application of critical experiments.