- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2011

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) - With firefighters bracing for another day of strong, erratic winds, a wildfire near the nation’s premier nuclear weapons laboratory and a northern New Mexico community was poised Thursday to become the largest in state history.

But fire officials remained confidant the fire will not spread onto the Los Alamos National Laboratory or into the town of Los Alamos. Crews lit brush to create a 10-mile long burned-out area between the fire and the facility that created the first atomic bomb.

“It’s looking good right now,” Los Alamos County Fire Chief Doug Tucker said.

The fire has chewed up tens of thousands of acres a day since it started Sunday, charring nearly 145 square miles, or 92,735 acres.

Fire officials believe the blaze will soon surpass the Dry Lakes fire, which burned more than 94,000 acres of the Gila National Forest in 2003.

Firefighters have contained only 3 percent of the fire near Los Alamos. They were bracing for winds that could gust up to 40 mph Thursday afternoon.

“Every day we continue to see an active fire day, and with those winds it still brings the potential for spotting,” fire information officer Sandra Lopez said.

“Those are the conditions these guys and gals that are out there on the fire lines fighting the fire are enduring,” she said. “It’s rugged, steep country. It’s hot, and there are late-afternoon winds.”

As firefighters hold the line along the lab’s southern border, lab officials are trying to determine the extent of how experiments at the facility have been affected by a shutdown caused by the fast-moving fire.

Lab Director Charles McMillan said Wednesday teams will quickly figure out how things stand as soon as they’re able to return.

The lab has been closed since Monday, when the city of Los Alamos and some of its surrounding areas _ 12,000 people in all _ were evacuated. There was no word on when it would reopen, but it was expected to remain idle at least through Friday.

Officials said the Los Alamos National Laboratory has some 10,000 experiments running at the same time that have been put on hold.

“We have a range of projects, some of them have shorter time deliverable, some of them are years to decades,” said McMillan, who last month took over management of the lab that sits atop desert mesas.

The delayed projects include experiments run on two supercomputers, the Roadrunner and Cielo. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s three national laboratories _ Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore _ all share computing time on Cielo, which is among the world’s fastest computers.

Also delayed are studies on how climate change affects ocean currents, and on extending the life of 1960s-era B61 nuclear bombs.

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