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Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
Fires spread in US
Home destroyed by fire
The fire has forced 30,000 people to leave Los Alamos
Emergency services in the US are still trying to douse fires in New Mexico and Arizona that have destroyed thousands of acres of forest and forced the evacuation of several towns.

A huge blaze around Los Alamos in New Mexico has been threatening the nuclear weapons laboratory there, where the first atomic bomb was built.

Nuclear laboratory
The fire is threatening the nuclear laboratory
Officials told the BBC that the blaze has damaged a building on the outskirts of the laboratory complex.

They insist that it poses no threat to stockpiles of plutonium and high explosives, which are stored underground.

Laboratory spokesman Jim Danneskiold said: "The plutonium facility has been built to the highest standards. It's a massive concrete building able to withstand earthquakes, a plane crash or fires."

But the main worry appears to be an overground facility filled with low-level nuclear waste such as contaminated gloves.

This fire has grown at an astronomical rate.

Rick Hartigan, fire information officer
Officials have been considering a possible voluntary evacuation of the 80,000 residents of Santa Fe, to the south, in case winds sweep smoke from the blaze into the city.

The fire has destroyed about 300 homes and forced 30,000 people out of the town.

'Controlled burn'

The fires began after officials from the National Park Service embarked on what was supposed to be a controlled burn to remove undergrowth.

US Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said his department would investigate how a small controlled fire could have developed into such an inferno.

The superintendent of Bandelier National Monument, Roy Weaver, has taken responsibility for ordering the controlled burning and has been placed on leave.

Click here to the area under threat

Further south, a fire in the Sacramento Mountains, sparked by a downed power line, was reported to be covering 20,000 acres.

"This fire has grown at an astronomical rate," said Rick Hartigan, a fire information officer.

It prompted the evacuation of the towns of Sacramento and Weed, as well as a number of rural areas.

Grand Canyon

In Arizona, another big fire forced the authorities to evacuate and close part of Grand Canyon National Park.

car destroyed
The blaze has destroyed several properties and cars in Los Alamos
Park spokeswoman Vanya Chavez said the blaze was reclassified as a wildfire after high winds fanned the flames into a larger, more serious fire the size of which had yet to be determined.

Ms Chavez said all visitors and non-essential personnel in the developed part of the park's north rim were evacuated.

Ironically, the fire was one of two deliberately ignited on 25 April to improve the ecology by burning material that could feed a wildfire.

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09 May 00 | Americas
Forest fire shuts nuclear lab
11 May 00 | Americas
Los Alamos evacuated
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