A rapidly spreading wildfire in northern New Mexico has forced the evacuation and closure of Bandelier National Monument. The fire began Sunday afternoon on private land near the Santa Fe National Forest about a dozen miles south of Los Alamos.
Dubbed the Las Conchas Fire, the blaze had already burned over 3,500 acres by Sunday evening, and fire officials reported that it had spread into Frijoles Canyon within the park. The fire burned actively all day to the north/northeast, and running, crowning, and spotting up to a half a mile in advance of the head of the fire was observed. Red flag conditions (hot temperatures, low humidity, high winds) contributed to intense fire behavior and rapid fire growth.
Residents living within Cochiti Mesa and Las Conchas were also evacuated, along with campers in nearby Forest Service campgrounds. Voluntary evacuations are in effect for the towns of White Rock and Los Alamos.
As of this morning, three helicopters, two Hotshot crews, nine hand crews, five dozers and thirteen engines were assigned to the fire and more resources have been requested. Work on the fire is being managed by an Interagency Team.
Officials report that power and phone lines are down in the area, and there is concern for facilities in the area near the park. By mid-morning on Monday the fire was approximately one mile southwest of the boundary of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has also been closed. According to information from the fire management team, "the fire has not entered Laboratory property at this time. All radioactive material is appropriately accounted for and protected."
A smoke plume emitting black and grey smoke was visible Sunday from Jemez Springs, Sante Fe and as far as Albuquerque.
Given the recent problems with other fires in New Mexico and Arizona, officials at all levels are taking this one very seriously. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez visited the Los Alamos National Laboratory Emergency Operations Center just before midnight on Sunday and has ordered the New Mexico National Guard to Los Alamos "to provide support for the ongoing efforts to protect lives, property and critical infrastructure threatened by the Las Conchas fire."
Governor Martinez has "directed state agencies to provide support for local emergency managers, firefighters, and other personnel in Sandoval County, Los Alamos County and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory."
"My administration will make every effort to provide support for the local emergency response crews. With evacuations in place and the fire burning quickly, it is important that residents in the surrounding communities remain attentive to the local emergency operations' alerts and orders," Martinez said. "Our top priority is the safety of the people of our communities and property. I'm grateful to the state and local crews who are working so hard to keep damage to a minimum."
The staff at Bandlier had already taken preventive measures "to ensure public safety in a summer of unprecedented dry conditions in which fire behavior has already demonstrated itself to be extremely severe." Beginning last Friday, the majority of the park had been closed, with only the visitor center, picnic area, Main Loop Trail, Juniper Campground, and the trail area of theTsankawi section remaining open. Those efforts came to naught when the current fire spread into the park from outside the boundary.
Information on the park website notes "the fire behavior is extreme and poses a danger to the park. The park will be closed until conditions are safe. The park website won't be updated again until the park reopens." Information posted by the fire management team this morning predicted the park would be closed for at least three days.