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!


Anonymous said...

i read somewhere that in 2000 there was a fire at los alamos, well, the land all around it. There was depleted uranium and other stuff in the smoke that went up to Taos, according to the poster. It wouldn't surprise me that this is true, and that the smoke today could also be contaminated. There were NO rules back in theforties for letting radioisotopes out into the atmosphere...those trees, and that ground at los alamos are full of the
venting by products of 60 years of doing the dirtiest work on the planet.
now the stuff's burning. yuck.

Beth said...

They said on TV the other night that the ground in the canyons surrounding the lab is contaminated from all the nuclear testing in the 1940s. And that's the stuff that is or will be burning.

Elle said...

Very sobering stuff here Beth. Glad you have figured out a way to cool down the house a bit without letting in the smoke. Sounds similar to the process we use to cool the concrete core in late evening and overnight, plus in the morning just on the west side of the house, then shutting everything up to retain what cool we can.
Hope they are able to put out the fire ASAP so you can get back to enjoying the beautiful area you live in.