WHITE ROCK, N.M. -- Parts of the Los Alamos National Laboratory were evacuated as firefighters today battled a blaze that had been set to improve the watershed in Bandelier National Monument but spread out of control, scorching at least 5,000 acres.
The lab's explosive materials were all secured in fire-resistant bunkers before the evacuation, said John Gustafson, a lab spokesman. He said the fire had not approached any areas where radioactive materials are stored.
''It is not close enough to'' threaten any structures, Gustafson said. ''But it's close enough (for us) to take some precautionary moves.''
Some spot fires had ignited on the western edge of the lab's property, but those blazes were quickly extinguished, he said. Air tankers had dumped flame retardant across the area to prevent the fire's spread.
The fire continued burning today across several canyons filled with conifers and thick stands of ponderosa pines at the foot of the Jemez Mountains, said Stephen Fettig, a Bandelier wildlife biologist.
Erratic wind hampered firefighters Sunday, but the wind calmed and the fire did not progress much Sunday night and early today, he said.
''It's burning internally, however we do expect fire behavior will increase as temperatures and wind climb today,'' Fettig said.
About 500 homes in the Los Alamos area were evacuated, and campers visiting the Bandelier National Monument, where the fire began, were asked to leave. The monument is known for its ancient Indian dwellings and artifacts.
At the lab, only workers engaged in emergency response or other critical activities were asked to report to work. The Department of Energy office in Los Alamos and public schools in the area were also closed today.
Corinne Cisneros, whose mobile home was among those evacuated, said she could see ash from the fire falling in her trailer park.
''From my kitchen window, when it topped the mountain, you could see the flames and the smoke,'' she said.
The fire, set to clear scrub brush, began burning out of control on Friday. The National Park Service had planned to burn about 900 acres, but the dry, windy conditions helped sustain the blaze and pushed it out of control.
Another fire that started Sunday in Ruidoso burned an estimated 3,000 acres, destroyed three houses and forced the evacuation of about 150 homes near the town.
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