Thousands in N.M. town ordered to evacuate in face of approaching wildfire
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Authorities ordered Los Alamos evacuated yesterday as a fast-growing and unpredictable wildfire bore down on the northern New Mexico town and its sprawling nuclear laboratory.
The blaze that began Sunday had already destroyed an unspecified number of houses south of the town, which is home to about 12,000 residents. It also forced the closure of the nation’s preeminent nuclear lab while stirring memories of a devastating blaze more than a decade ago that destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings in the area.
“The hair on the back of your neck goes up,’’ Los Alamos County fire chief Doug Tucker said of first seeing the fire in the Santa Fe National Forest on Sunday. “I saw that plume and I thought, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’ ’’
Tucker said the blaze that grew to more than 68 square miles overnight was the most active fire he had seen in his career, forcing residents near Cochiti Mesa and Las Conchas to flee with “nothing but the shirts on their back.’’
Traffic on Trinity Drive, one of the main roads out of Los Alamos, was bumper-to-bumper yesterday afternoon as residents followed orders to leave. Authorities said about 2,500 of the town’s residents left under an earlier voluntary evacuation.
“We’re just hoping for the best,’’ Vivian Levy, a resident since the 1970s, said as she packed her car once again.
“Last time, I just walked out of my house and said goodbye, and that it was going to be OK,’’ she said as she began to cry. “I’m doing the same thing this time.’’
Yesterday, the flames were across the road from the southern edge of the famed northern New Mexico lab, where scientists developed and tested the first atomic bomb during World War II. Officials said all hazardous and radioactive materials were being protected.