Sunrise over Los Alamos National Laboratory on June 29 reveals a smoke-filled sky that persisted until this week, when firefighters began gaining control over the blaze that threatened the New Mexico city and its namesake nuclear weapons laboratory. Photo courtesy of Jayson Coil.
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. -- Even as smoke continued to billow from the Jemez Mountains that form this small city's scenic backdrop, signs of normalcy abounded here Tuesday, just two days after officials allowed residents to return to their homes: Traffic crawled along Trinity Drive; kids rode skateboards through Ashley Pond Park; coffee connoisseurs stood in line at the local Starbucks.
The mood among the city's 18,000 residents as the Las Conchas fire smolders is far more sanguine than 11 years ago, when the last major fire to threaten the city and its namesake nuclear weapons laboratory, the Cerro Grande Fire, destroyed about 350 homes. This time, however, Los Alamos was spared -- and residents have the Cerro Grande fire to thank for it.
"The Cerro Grande fire helped save Los Alamos, because while this fire did burn across the landscape, it burned less severely," said Rod Torres, chief of interpretation for nearby Bandelier National Monument and a spokesman for the interagency team working on the Las Conchas fire, which is now 40 percent contained.
The massive, fast-moving blaze -- at roughly 137,000 acres -- is the largest on record in New Mexico.