Three small fires at Los Alamos explosives test site

ThreeLos Alamos National Laboratory small fires started Thursday at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The fires began in Technical Area 36, an area that is used for testing up to 2,000 pounds of high explosives. The Lab’s fire department had one fire truck on scene during the test, but called in a second rig after the fires ignited. According to lab spokesman Kevin Roark the total area burned was less than a quarter acre.

Much of the research that developed the first nuclear bomb occurred at Los Alamos. According to their website their current mission “is to develop and apply science and technology to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; reduce global threats; and solve other emerging national security and energy challenges.”

Los Alamos has a fire history. The Cerro Grande Fire which began as a prescribed fire on National Park Service land escaped control in 2000 and burned into the laboratory and the community, destroying 280 homes. In 2011 the largest fire in the history of New Mexico, the 150,000-acre Las Conchas Fire, also burned onto the lab’s property.

One of the concerns about fires at Los Alamos is the radioactive material stored in drums on the site.

Below is a description of Technical Area 36 from the Lab’s website: Eenie Site, The Eenie Site (Buildings 3 and 4, Figure 4-18, Sheet 2) has the only aboveground bunker at TA- 36. This bunker allows the use of a variety of optical and electronic diagnostics. Belowgrade bunkers at TA-36 are used to protect 35-mm streak cameras, which observe the test device through a periscope. Image-intensifier cameras, a 70-mm streak camera, a combination streak camera with a 2-million-frame-per-second framing camera, and a laser velocimeter are routinely available at this site as needed for specific tests. The Eenie Site primarily performs small-bore (less than 100 mm) gun tests against conventional, ceramic, and reactive armors; shaped-charge jet tests against conventional, ceramic, and reactive armors; diagnostic experiments to determine shaped-charge jet physics; deflagration-to-detonation experiments; detonation physics experiments; and studies in explosives vulnerability to projectile and shaped-charge attack. The site has a load limit of 2,000 lb (907 kg) of HE. The Eenie Control Building (Building 3) and the Eenie Preparation Building (Building 4) are categorized as L/ENS.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.