Massive wildfire rages on in US

Washington, July 01: A huge wildfire in north of the US state of New Mexico has grown larger, as fire officials try to keep it from spreading onto the Los Alamos nuclear lab, reports say.

The so-called Las Conchas, New Mexico’s second largest wildfire on record so far, has burned nearly 93,000 acres of thick pine woodlands on the slopes of the Jemez Mountains since erupting.

The fire started on Sunday near the Los Alamos National Laboratory and comes second in comparison to the state’s biggest blaze, the Dry Lakes Fire of 2003, which scorched more than 94,000 acres of the Gila National Forest in the southwestern US state of New Mexico, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Las Conchas, believed to have been sparked by a downed power line, has burned mostly in the Santa Fe National Forest and got near the Los Alamos weapons laboratory and the adjacent town with some 10,000 residents.

The US government sent a plane equipped with radiation monitors over the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory on Wednesday as a 110-square-mile wildfire burned at the lab’s doorstep, putting thousands of scientific experiments on hold for days.

“We’re seeing fire behavior we’ve never seen down here, and it’s really aggressive,” Los Alamos County Fire Chief Douglas Tucker told reporters, adding that earlier hopes of lifting evacuations in the area by this weekend had been dashed.

The Los Alamos complex contains 3 metric tons of highly radioactive weapons-grade plutonium, stored in concrete and steel vaults in the basement floor of a building near the center of the complex, with an air-containment system surrounding it.

Lab officials say those storage structures are fire safe and pose no threat to public safety.

By midday Friday, Las Conchas is expected to capture the dubious title of the largest single forest fire on record in New Mexico.