Many of the buildings were also constructed to meet strict standards for nuclear safety, and aggressive wildfires were taken into account, lab spokesman Kevin Roark said.
“We’ll pre-treat with foam if necessary, but we really want the buildings to stand on their own for the most part. That is exactly how they’ve been designed. Especially the ones holding anything that is of high value or high risk,” said Los Alamos County Assistant Fire Chief Mike Thompson.
Teams from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Radiological Assistance Program were headed to the scene to help assess any hazards.
Lab officials said they were closely watching at least 60 air monitors for radiation and other hazards. The New Mexico Environment Department was also monitoring the air, and Udall said he asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do the same.
The lab has been shut down because of the fire, but authorities said the disruption is unlikely to affect any key experiments. The lab will be closed at least through Wednesday.
The wildfire has destroyed 30 structures near Los Alamos, stirring memories of a devastating blaze in May 2000 that wrecked hundreds of homes and other buildings. About 12,500 residents in and around Los Alamos have been evacuated, an orderly exit that didn’t even cause a traffic accident.
Investigators do not know what sparked the fire, although downed power lines were suspected.
The streets of Los Alamos were empty with the exception of emergency vehicles and National Guard Humvees. There were signs that homeowners had left prepared: Propane bottles were placed at the front of driveways and cars were left in the middle of parking lots, away from anything flammable.
Some residents decided to wait out the fire, including Mark Smith, a chemical engineer at Los Alamos. He said he was not worried about flames reaching the lab’s sensitive materials.
“The risk of exposure is so small,” he said. “I wouldn’t sit here and inhale plutonium. I may be crazy, but I’m not dumb.”
Associated Press writer Barry Massey contributed to this report from Santa Fe, N.M.