Thursday, June 30, 2011

Another Day, Another 10,000 Acres

As of this morning, the fire in Los Alamos has grown to 92,735 acres; it's the second largest fire in New Mexico history, but only by about 2,000 acres.

The fire is less than a mile from the nuclear lab, so this fire is "the highest priority fire in the country." Yesterday the firefighters did a lot of "backburning," setting fires around the perimeter of the lab to create a bare space with no vegetation, so if the fire got that far, it would stop because of the lack of fuel. Of course setting an intentional fire is risky. If the wind changes direction suddenly (which happens in New Mexico), it could be disastrous.

The real danger is what is on the lab property -- 30,000 drums of plutonium-contaminated waste, stored in fabric tents above ground. The lab director keeps assuring everyone that, "the nuclear materials are safe, accounted for, and protected." But people are skeptical and rightfully so. Experts say that plutonium is the most toxic substance known to humans. Inhaling a single speck of plutonium will lead to lung cancer, with 100% certainty.

For the moment, the problem in Taos is the smoke. Yesterday it was particulary bad and I kept coughing a lot, even staying inside. Today doesn't seem as bad (so far).

The challenge is keeping the house cool. Using the swamp cooler is out of the question. The way those work is they draw in the outside air to water-soaked straw pads, which cools the air, and then the cool air is blown down through a vent to cool the house. It blows with quite a bit of force, so a window has to be open, so the "extra" air has somewhere to go. So the cool air blows the hot air out. The swamp cooler works best in arid climates. But what this means now is that it would draw in smoke-filled air which would be unhealthy and unpleasant. So in the early mornings when it's still cool, I open the windows on the west side of the house (and keep the shades lowered on the eastern windows to keep the sun out) and let cool air in. Also in the mornings the wind is calm, so the smoke isn't blowing in. As the day heats up and the sun moves, I close all the windows and all the shades. In the evenings, I open up the windows again to let some cool air in.

The town of Taos has postponed the 4th of July fireworks display until at least July 21, depending on weather and fire conditions.

The county of Taos tweaked the law a little bit to ban the sale of fireworks anywhere within the county. See The Taos News for the details. The grocery stores had already voluntarily pulled all fireworks from the shelves, but there were still independent fireworks stands selling them. Not anymore.

I'll keep posting updates. Nothing like a national disaster to get me blogging again!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Smoke gets in your eyes, nose, throat, etc.

The fire in Los Alamos (officially called the Las Conchas fire) has grown to approximately 50,000 acres. They can't get an official count because high winds are keeping the aircraft grounded (which also means they can't fight the fire from the air). The entire town of Los Alamos has been evacuated; that's 18,000 people. The fire is very near the Los Alamos National Laboratory and there was a small (1 acre) fire on the property of the lab itself earlier in the day, but that was put out.

The fire is a little more than 50 miles away from us (as the magpie flies), so we're in no danger from the fire, but the smoke is finding its way here. Yesterday evening and even this morning, it was just a stream of smoke southwest of here, but as the fire grew and the wind blew, the smoke just inundated Taos. At 2:30 this afternoon I was out in it, driving to work and I could feel the smoke in my nose and throat. Many of the cars had their headlights on, although the smoke wasn't that thick. In good weather, we can see mountains on three sides of our house, but the smoke completely obscured the view of the mountains.

I keep staring out the window at the thick smoke and saying, "This is so unreal."

And it is.

Fire Update

Now the fire is more than 43,000 acres!

And it has a name. All these fires have names so you can tell which is which.

Las Conchas Fire

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rural Life

Living in the country, I've seen all kinds of animals. In the heat of the summer, the animals are more active in the cool morning hours. Driving home from work at 7:00 in the morning, I'm used to seeing coyotes crossing the road (yes, to get to the other side, where the river is so they can get a desperately needed drink of water). One morning I was startled to see two horses running side by side on the road coming towards me. I had to take evasive action to avoid being hit by them, but they looked like they were having fun, running free (having escaped a nearby horse farm).

But this morning I saw something totally unexpected as I drove home. Turkeys. Yes, turkeys. There was one adult and five or six half grown turkeys walking along the side of the road. They were tall and thin, the way turkeys are meant to be, not the plumped-up, hormonally-injected commercial turkeys. These were either wild turkeys or more escapees from a nearby house or farm. They weren't in any hurry; they just padded peacefully along the side of the road.

In fire news, there's another fire to report. Ron and I went to the grocery store this afternoon and driving back, we noticed big smoke clouds billowing up, but they weren't where the smoke clouds from the Santa Fe fire had been yesterday. So we realized there was another fire (Sigh). Sure enough, I checked the website of our favorite Albuquerque TV station, and they said there's a fire 12 miles south of Los Alamos. At 3:15 pm the fire was 100 acres and of course was 0 percent contained. Click here for the story. It's hot and dry today, and very windy again. The weatherman on that station said it's officially the windiest spring and summer ever as well as the driest.

Update (5:15 p.m.): The fire is now 400 acres in size and the smoke from the fire is showing up on KOAT's weather radar!

The new security guard at work is already wishing for winter. His view is that when you're cold, you can get warmer by putting more clothes on, but when you're hot, you can't do much to get cooler (except turn on ceiling fans and the swamp cooler (which is more efficient the drier the air is, so of course it's working great these days)).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This blog post will sound familiar to one of my sisters. She sent me an email asking about the wildfires in New Mexico and after sending her a reply, I thought it would make a good blog post, too. I've made a few changes.

There are wildfires all over the state; it's getting ridiculous. It's a combination of high winds, low humidity (single-digit!), and no rain. The "April winds" are finally over as of yesterday, according to the weather guy on TV. Seriously. The sustained high winds are usually only for the entire month of April, but this year they started in mid-March and kept going until mid-June. And single-digit humidity has been the norm for the last several weeks. According to the weather station we have at our house (so we can always know how miserable we are), the humidity a few days ago was 2%! I didn't know it could get that low. I told Mom that when it gets up to 15% it starts to feel muggy! When I go outside I can feel the moisture being sucked out of my skin.

The fire on the border with Arizona blew a lot of smoke into Albuquerque, with all kinds of air quality warnings. It blew a little bit of smoke here for a few days, but it wasn't that bad here, compared with Albuquerque.

There's another fire in Raton, near the border with Colorado that made them shut down Interstate 25 for several days. The fire started on one side of the interstate, but then it managed to jump over to the other side. We have friends who live up there and they had to evacuate. For several days they didn't even know if they still had a house or not. Fortunately, their house survived, but the fire came within 1,000 feet of their house -- flames 200 - 300 feet high. A DC-10 airplane dropped slurry in the area, saving their house and about 15 other houses.

Here are two videos on youtube.

In this one, the noise you hear is the wind hitting the camera's microphone.

And now there's a fire just north of Santa Fe. We could see the smoke the first day, as the wind blew the smoke our way.

And there are more fires in the far southern part of the state.

The first 10 minutes of the local (Albuquerque) TV newscast is devoted to updates on all the fires in the state, which is kind of a welcome change from the usual, the first 10 minutes devoted to shootings, stabbings, horrific drunk driving accidents, etc.