- LOS ALAMOS, NM (Reuters)
- A complex of historic buildings where scientists assembled the first
atomic bomb during World War Two has been consumed by a wildfire that has
raged for over a week, the Los Alamos National Laboratory said on Monday.
- The complex where scientists worked on the top-secret
Manhattan Project to build the bomb was destroyed in the fire except for
one building, the laboratory said in a statement.
- Laboratory official Ternel Martinez said the destruction
of the site was a severe blow to the 12,000 people who work at the U.S.
nuclear weapons research facility in northern New Mexico.
- "Any time that anything of historical significance
is lost it's a great tragedy," he told Reuters. "We're very proud
of our past and anything that we could have kept to show the world our
significant contribution to ending World War Two...whenever you lose that,
it's very painful."
- More than 1,200 firefighters continue to battle the blaze
which has consumed 44,000 hectares (109,000 acres) of forest and driven
20,000 people from their homes.
- Wind speeds picked up on Monday and are forecast to do
the same on Tuesday, making the firefighters' task more difficult.
- The fire was 28 percent contained by Monday morning and
Martinez said authorities felt they were making progress.
- However officials have also warned that the blaze, which
started as a controlled burn to clear scrub bush, could burn for several
- The 7,000 people evacuated from the town of White Rock
were allowed to return to their homes on Sunday, but the 11,000 residents
of Los Alamos, where 260 homes burned down, have not yet been given the
green light to go home.
- Some Los Alamos residents were taken by bus on Sunday
to view the charred remains of their houses.
- The laboratory remained closed on Monday but managers
were expected to start visiting the site soon to assess when a phased resumption
of operations could get under way.
- Officials said there was no damage to the laboratory's
permanent structures, scientific facilities or facilities that handle radioactive
or hazardous materials.
- Tests conducted so far showed increases in alpha and
beta radiation that were consistent with increases in natural radiation
caused by the forest fire, they said.
- On Monday the fire was heading north and northeast through
Santa Clara Canyon. No further evacuations had been ordered.
- Cecilia Seesholtz of the U.S. Forest Service said the
fire had "crept around" historic Pueblo Indian cliff dwellings
without damaging them because there was little fuel there for the fire.
- The fire posed no immediate threat to Indians on the
Santa Clara reservation, she said.
- The fire began on May 4 as a controlled burn by the National
Park Service to clear flammable underbrush and reduce the danger of a spontaneous
wildfire, but it quickly raged out of control.
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