National Park Service
Warned Of 'Hazardous'
Conditions Before
Los Alamos Burn

WASHINGTON (UPI) - Federal officials say the National Park Service received a warning that fire weather conditions were hazardous some seven hours before workers lit the brush-clearing fires anyway that eventually got out of control and burned through the town of Los Alamos, the Washington Post reported Saturday.
The park service was informed that climate conditions posed dangerous risks, officials said.
The fire destroyed some 260 homes in Los Alamos this week, and was only 5-percent contained late Saturday. Weather conditions were said to be improving, however, and officials hoped to have the blaze 40-percent contained by Sunday.
The Post's disclosures came as a federal investigation was launched to find out what went wrong in the tragic fire.
A team led by Tom Lonnie, Bureau of Land Management Deputy State Director for Montana, will investigate the fire until May 18 and then issue a report, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said late Friday.
"There are many unanswered questions," said Babbitt. "The investigative team that we have formed will help us to understand what went wrong and to determine if our prescribed fire policy is sound and the established procedures are adequate."
Babbitt also announced Friday that federal parks and forests in the western United States have been ordered to suspend all controlled burns for 30 days.
"We need to take a pause," Babbitt said. "There's an awful lot of stuff that needs to be addressed."
The National Weather Service says it informed the park service that conditions were not at all suitable for a controlled burn hours before the fire was lit, the newspaper reported.
The Weather Service says it received a request at 11:35 a.m. local time for atmospheric conditions from the park, which said it was planning a controlled burn. Weather Service officials say they sent a bulletin to park officials at 12:20 p.m. that said: "6 Haines Index through Friday," the Post reported.
The Haines Index is a gauge for the possibility of fires going out of control; a Haines rating of 5 or 6 signifies a good chance of the flames spreading out of control.
The intentional burn started by forestry officials in the Bandelier National Monument park of New Mexico on May 4 forced a shutdown of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. More than 20,000 area residents were evacuated and will likely be unable to return to what is left of their homes -- if anything at all -- until next week.
The official responsible for approving the ill-fated controlled fire, Superintendent Roy Weaver of Bandelier National Monument, was placed on administrative leave.
Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved


This Site Served by TheHostPros