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LOS ALAMOS, N.M. • With firefighters holding their ground against the largest wildfire ever in New Mexico, officials at the nation's premier nuclear weapons laboratory and in the surrounding city planned for the return of thousands of evacuated employees and residents.
Los Alamos Fire Threat Put Safety of Nuclear Labs across U.S. into Question

The blaze was several miles upslope Friday from Los Alamos National Laboratory, boosting confidence that it no longer posed an immediate threat to the facility.

Thousands of experiments, including those on two supercomputers and studies on extending the life of 1960s-era nuclear bombs, have been put on hold because of the fire.

"I anticipate that we are going to be able to bring the laboratory back up in a way that's smooth and continues to maintain the safety and security that we're responsible for," Lab Director Charles McMillan said.

Authorities didn't give a timetable for when they would lift evacuation order that began Monday for the town of Los Alamos, home to 12,000 people. But some county workers were already back to prepare for the eventual rush of utility service calls, as well as possible flooding from surrounding mountainsides denuded by the wildfire.

Joe Reinarz, a fire official who had also worked at one of the large Arizona wildfires this season, said the fire did not grow significantly on Friday and that containment lines were holding but were no guarantee.

"Everything we've seen this summer doesn't indicate that an old fire is going to stop much. It's unusually dry in the Southwest," he said.

The fire has blackened more than 162 square miles in the last six days, making it the largest in New Mexico history. Erratic winds and dry fuels helped it surpass a 2003 fire that took five months to burn through 94,000 acres in the Gila National Forest.

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