Weather helps fight to save sacred mountain from wildfire

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 07, 2011 6:59 PM
Weather helps fight to save sacred mountain from wildfire

By Dennis Carroll

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Calmer winds and more humid weather bolstered firefighters' efforts on Thursday to save a sacred Pueblo Indian mountain on the edge of New Mexico's monster Las Conchas wildfire.

Fire crews were able to maintain firelines around three sides of the Chicoma Mountain, considered as the "center of all" by many New Mexico Pueblo Indians. The fire was 40 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.

"The fire has definitely slowed down," Rico Smith, a spokesman for a multi-agency fire management team, said.

The fire, which last week lapped at the edges of the Los Alamos nuclear complex and forced its temporary closure, has consumed nearly 137,000 acres and is encroaching on the Santa Clara Pueblo reservation, which encompasses Chicoma Mountain.

The summit of the 11,560-foot mountain, one of the highest in the Jemez range, is said to hold an elliptical shrine with seven exits opening toward tribal regions.

Sparked on June 26 by a tree falling on power lines about 12 miles southwest of Los Alamos, the blaze has burned through around 80 percent of the Santa Clara reservation's forest land.

Forestry officials said blazes erupted on other portions of the fire to the south and west on Thursday producing giant plumes of smoke and fire, but no further structures or communities were immediately threatened, and the new blazes were within the containment lines.

The fire is now ranked as the largest wild-lands blaze ever recorded in New Mexico, surpassing the previous record set in 2003 by the 94,000-acre Dry Lakes Fire in the Gila National Forest.

The Los Alamos lab, which reopened on Wednesday, is the linchpin to research and development of America's nuclear weapons arsenal, as well as to a multitude of other nuclear related endeavors.

The blaze came to within 70 feet of the facility property before being staved off. Lab officials said no radioactive or other hazardous materials were released as a result of the blaze.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)