Las Conchas fire near Los Alamos burns 43,000 acres in the first 14 hours

Las Conchas fire 6-27-2011

Wildfire Today posted more information about the Las Conchas fire on June 29.

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Update at 5:40 p.m. MT, June 27, 2011: Replaced one of the maps generated by MODIS (the “overview” map) that had an error, showing the fire perimeter too far to the east.

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Update at 3:20 p.m. MT, June 27, 2011:

We added more current, easier to see maps and links to live cameras:

Las Conchas fire mapped by Infrared flight 6-27-2011
Click to enlarge. Las Conchas fire mapped by Infrared flight, overview 0309 6-27-2011. MODIS/USFS

More maps and information are below.

 

Las Conchas fire mapped by Infrared flight, 3:09 a.m. 6-27-2011. MODIS/USFS
Click to enlarge. Las Conchas fire mapped by Infrared flight, 3:09 a.m. 6-27-2011. MODIS/USFS
Las Conchas fire map 0309 6-27-2011
Map of the Las Conchas fire showing heat, in red, detected by satellites at 11:45 a.m. June 27, 2011. It shows fire expansion beyond the earlier mapped perimeter on the east and north sides.

Here are some links to live cameras in the area:

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Update at 3:00 p.m. MT, June 27, 2011:

InciWeb reports that the city of Los Alamos is under MANDATORY evacuation as of 1:45 pm. White Rock remains under VOLUNTARY evacuation. Cochiti Mesa, Las Conchas, Bandelier National Monument, and campgrounds near the fire were evacuated yesterday.

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Updated at 12:39 p.m. MT, June 27, 2011:

A reporter for KSFR public radio in Santa Fe just left a press conference where a fire chief said at least 30 structures have burned in the Las Conchas fire, which is probably a low estimate since the survey was done from the air and smoke made a complete damage estimate impossible, he said. Strong winds have grounded aerial firefighting resources such as air tankers and helicopters.

Weather conditions recorded at the Tower RAWS weather station show that during much of the time since the fire started, strong winds have been pushing the fire, but from variable directions. From the time the fire started at 1:00 p.m. on June 26 until 7:21 p.m., the wind was gusting from 30 to 41 mph from the southeast, southwest, west, and northwest, while the relative humidity was in the single digits.

The weather forecast for Los Alamos predicts the wind through Tuesday afternoon will be from the southeast, then switching from the southwest at 11-18 mph with minimum humidities in the lower teens. This could encourage the fire to move closer to Los Alamos.

The video below is a time-lapse of the Las Conchas fire shot by Michael Zeiler on June 26, the day it started, from a vantage point just north of Santa Fe, the home of Polly White & Michael Zeiler. Los Alamos city and labs can be seen to the right of the fire.

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Updated at 11:56 a.m. June 27, 2011: added an official map (scroll down to see it) and the photo below.

Las Conchas fire 6-27-2011
Las Conchas fire 6-27-2011, by Dr. Tom Csanadi

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Updated at 10:27 a.m. MT, June 27, 2011. Included map showing the approximate location of the Cerro Grande fire in relation to the new Las Conchas fire.

Map of Las Conchas fire, 3:55 a.m. MT, 6-27-2011
Map of Las Conchas fire, 3:55 a.m. MT, 6-27-2011, showing heat detected by satellites (in red). The map also shows the 2000 Cerro Grande fire. MODIS, and Bill Gabbert

A new fire, the Las Conchas fire, that started on private land southwest of Los Alamos and northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico burned over 43,000 acres from it’s 1:00 p.m. Sunday start until it was mapped by an infrared flight at 3:00 a.m. on Monday. On Sunday the fire, according to New Mexico Fire Information:

…burned actively all day to the north/northeast. Running, crowning and spotting up to a half a mile [ahead] of the head of the fire was observed.

Yesterday firefighters were actively backfiring along Highway 4 between the fire and the city of Los Alamos. As you can see by the map of the fire, as of late Sunday night the fire was approximately 3 miles from the city. It is also less than a mile from the boundary of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the nuclear bomb and still a location for research on radioactive materials.

One fact working in favor of the firefighters is the footprint of the Cerro Grande fire that burned from Bandelier National Monument into Los Alamos. That fire, which is between the Las Conchas fire and Los Alamos, started from an escaped prescribed fire in the National Monument and on May 10, 2000 moved into Los Alamos and ultimately destroyed over 280 homes and burned 47,000 acres. Less vegetation, or fuel, is available in the old Cerro Grande fire and so far the firefighters have had some success keeping the fire from crossing Highway 4 into the previously burned area, but it has crossed in some places.

According to InciWeb, Cochiti Mesa, Las Conchas, Bandelier National Monument, and campgrounds near the fire were evacuated yesterday.

Even at 3:00 a.m., when most self-respecting fires take a break and lay down for the night, the Las Conchas fire was still burning so hot very early Monday morning that the convection column of smoke and hot gasses made it very difficult for the infrared aircraft, N149Z, a King Air 200, to fly over the fire to collect the imagery. Normally the aircraft will fly nice, neat, orderly parallel flight lines spaced equidistantly, as you can see from the flight tracks of infrared missions we posted in 2008. Last night they flew six flight lines, most of them in different directions, but they successfully mapped the entire fire.

The map below from FlightAware shows the mission of N149Z from the time it took off at Albuquerque (KABQ) at 2:33 a.m. until it landed at Pueblo (KPUB) at 4:32 a.m Monday. I believe the green and dark blue patch near the confused-looking flight lines is the smoke and convection from the fire that was picked up by radar.

N149Z Las Conchas fire 6-27-2011
Infrared mapping flight of N149Z for the Las Conchas fire 6-27-2011

We will update this article as additional information becomes available.

UPDATE: below is an official map made by the U.S. Forest Service as a result of the infrared flight at 3:09 a.m. June 27, 2011, which mapped heat detected by sensors on N149Z, a fixed wing aircraft. Click on it to enlarge.

Las Conchas fire mapped by IR flight 0309 6-27-2011
Click to enlarge. Official map of the Las Conchas fire, using data from an infrared flight at 3:09 a.m., 6-27-2011, from Yfrog via IanMSchwartz

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

19 thoughts on “Las Conchas fire near Los Alamos burns 43,000 acres in the first 14 hours”

    1. Thanks. I made the change. Apparently someone was trying to take credit for Dr. Tom Csanadi’s photo.

      1. Thank you! Not very important in context, but wanted to give my brother his due credit.

  1. Thanks for the video. That shows more than I’ve been able to see in downtown Santa Fe. We are having lots of ash and smoke throughout town.

  2. It maybe politically incorrect to ask while this fire is still crankin’, but what has the town of Los Alamos and the National Lab done since the Cerro Grande fire in 2000 to prepare for the eventality of another wildfire that would threaten them?

    1. Dick,

      The lab spent a considerable amount of time and effort on forest thinning within the lab boundaries. Also, the lab and the county have built a new combined Emergency Operations center. Also the country adopted some pretty strong building code additions, for example most sky lights are plastic, but in Los Alamos they have to be tempered glass and any wood deck has to have a coating of fire retardant. The list is much more involved but you get the idea.

      1. Jon – glad to hear that some important changes have been made. I coordinated the 2004 Staff Ride during the “Managing the Unexpected” workshop that was looking at the 2000 fire; lots of areas of opportunity to make things better when the next “Big One” hit came across. Good tohear that the local folks are up on “FireSafe” changes – we sure don’t need to re-do 2000 again!

        1. It’s good to hear that lessons have been learned and action taken.

          In South Florida I fear that this has not happened for hurricane planning and preperation. 19 years after the Cat 5 storm Andrew hit both citizens and government have forgotten.

  3. Hummingbird is clear of the fire. 6/27/11 we have no smoke and no danger. We are monitoring the fire and have evacuation busses available to take campers to rio Rancho. the news will let you know. thanks.

    1. Thank you Elliot! We have been concerned ever since we dropped our daughter off Sunday. We took the road up to Ponderosa NM on the way home and it looked like an atomic cloud to the north.

  4. Bill – incredible work on the site! My folks live in Los Alamos, and your site has been one of the best resources today as we sorted out their plans. I just wanted to pass along a minor mistake that I noticed (I think – or I might just be looking at it wrong), just so it doesn’t inadvertently make things look worse than they are when folks look at the maps. It’s in the first of the two maps above – it looks like the fire outline got shifted north and east in comparison to the base map, making it appear that the fire is well past SR4 and about halfway across the lab land (and close to white rock). I think the second map is right, with the fire just bumping up to 4 (at least as of last night – probably well beyond by now).

    1. You’re right, Erik. I have seen that happen with MODIS maps previously. I reported it to the MODIS folks last time and now it’s happening again. I’ll look into it and try to get an accurate map from MODIS. Thanks.

    1. Alex-

      This is from the article referred to in your comment:

      “The weather forecast for Los Alamos predicts the wind through Tuesday afternoon will be from the southeast, then switching from the southwest at 11-18 mph with minimum humidities in the lower teens. This could encourage the fire to move closer to Los Alamos,” reported Wildfiretoday.com.

      This is absolutely critical information that was given a paragraph in the corporate controlled media.

      I have reason to believe you are affiliated with that site.

      The author(s) of the article (Avalon & Shepard Ambellas?) calls Wildfire Today “corporate controlled media”. That is laughable and absurd. There may or may not be some good points in your site’s article, but such a ridiculous statement leads a person to doubt everything else on your site.

      Have a nice day.

  5. I live across the way from Los Alamos in Santa Fe, and that was an amazing run.

    I’ve been out of the game for a while and my rememberer may be a little worn out, but can anyone remind me of other fires in the last 20-30 years that burned almost 50,000 within 18 hours of starting?

    Maybe some of those SoCal fires a few years ago?

    Nice work on covering this, Bill.

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