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Wildfire Threatens Los Alamos National Lab

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LOS ALAMOS, N.M., June 27, 2011 — A wind-driven wildfire is threatening Los Alamos National Laboratory, home to the Trident laser, the Roadrunner supercomputer and many National Nuclear Security Administration weapons programs.

The fast-moving Las Conchas fire began on private land at 1 p.m. on Sunday and its size is now estimated at more than 43,624 acres with none of it contained, federal and state fire officials said.  By comparison, the El Cerro Grande Fire in the same area in 2000 burned 47,000 acres but took nearly two weeks to do so.

The lab said on its website that all radioactive and hazardous material is accounted for and protected. They closed all laboratory facilities on Monday and asked nonessential employees to stay home.

As of Monday afternoon the blaze was still about one mile southwest of the government laboratory, where the first atomic bomb was developed, and officials had issued a mandatory evacuation order for all of Los Alamos County.

A map showing the 43,624 acres (as of Monday morning) of the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico. Officials said the dramatic increase in the wildfire's size, which began less than 24 hours ago, is due to extreme fire behavior associated with prolonged drought, red flag conditions and better mapping. Last night’s infrared flight confirmed the acreage this morning; the data from the infrared flight detects heat on the ground and that is how the fire size is determined. Although the fire has moved through the area, the severity of the fire area has not been determined. (Image:

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is home to the Trident Laser Lab, the unique capabilities of which provide a platform for many experiments. The laser system consists of three high-energy beams that can be delivered into two independent target experimental areas. The target areas are equipped with an extensive suite of diagnostics for research on ultra-intense laser-matter interactions, dynamic material properties and laser-plasma instabilities.

Several important discoveries and first observations have been made at Trident, including laser-accelerated MeV monoenergetic ions, nonlinear kinetic plasma waves, and transition between kinetic and fluid nonlinear behavior, as well as other fundamental laser-matter interaction processes. Trident’s unique long-pulse capabilities have enabled state-of-the-art innovations in laser-launched flyer plates and other unique loading techniques for material dynamics research. 

The Roadrunner supercomputer, built by IBM and housed at LANL, was the first to achieve sustained operating performance speeds of one petaflop/s.

The lab is about 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe, N.M., on 36 square miles of property owned by the Department of Energy (DoE). More than 11,000 employees work at the facility. It is a joint project of Bechtel National, the University of California, Babcock & Wilcox Co. and URS; it is operated for the DoE's National Nuclear Security Administration.

For more information on the fire's advance, visit: or
Jun 2011
Americasatomic bombBabcock & WilcoxBasic ScienceBechtel NationalBusinessdefenseDepartment of Energyhigh-energy laser-light pulsesLas Conchaslaser-accelerated MeV monoenergetic ionslaser-launched flyer platesLos Alamos National LaboratoryNational Nuclear Security AdministrationNew MexicoResearch & TechnologyRoadrunnerTrident Laser LaboratoryUniversity of CaliforniaURSwildfirelasers

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