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The BBC's Paul Reynolds
"Firefighters ran out of water"
 real 28k

Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
Los Alamos evacuated
Fire
Fire spreading since Friday
Raging forest fires in New Mexico have forced 11,000 people to flee their homes and hundreds of researchers to evacuate the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory.

The laboratory is the largest nuclear weapons facility in the US, where high explosives and plutonium are stored.

Despite the reports that one laboratory building briefly caught fire, the facility is not thought to be at risk.



Of all the things that could threaten the nuclear material, a forest fire is very low on the list of threats

Chris Judson, fire department spokesman
But a fire department spokesman said the situation in the area was getting worse because of high winds and dry air.

US President, Bill Clinton, declared northern New Mexico a disaster area.

About 700 firefighters, helicopters and special airplanes are trying to put down the fire, which has been spreading since Friday.

The blaze was started deliberately last week by the US National Park Service to burn underbrush in nearby Bandelier National Monument, but ran out of control.

Town evacuated

A pillar of yellowish-gray smoke rose high into the sky as a slow convoy of evacuees drove their cars down the main road from the town.

Forest fire, smoke
The fire has destroyed more than 1,600 hectares of woodland

The evacuation was ordered after the fire began consuming houses on the edge of Los Alamos, and spread down a canyon that leads to the town centre.

Five hundred homes were evacuated on Sunday as a precaution.

A fire department spokesman said the flames had damaged 150 to 200 buildings on the western edge of the town and destroyed several.

According to officials, the fire has destroyed more than 1,600 hectares (4,000 acres) of woodland in the northern part of New Mexico.

The Laboratory

A weapons research building within the Los Alamos laboratory briefly caught fire on Wednesday, sustaining minor damage, a spokesman for the laboratory said.

The laboratory, where the world's first atomic bomb was built in 1945,about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Albuquerque, the state's largest city.

Laboratory officials say that plutonium and high explosives are safely stored in steel and concrete bunkers and the nuclear material was far away from the fire.

"Of all the things that could threaten the nuclear material, a forest fire is very low on the list of threats," Chris Judson, a spokesman for the fire information centre, said.

The laboratory has been closed since Monday.

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09 May 00 | Americas
Forest fire shuts nuclear lab
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