We’re on the wrong side of New Mexico’s newest wildfire — UPDATED

This was the view at sunset, last night – looking just north of west at Las Conchas fire smoke plume. The wildfire grew from about 1000 acres at sunset to about 6000 acres overnight. 8-12 miles away as the raven flies.

Los Alamos National Labs are closed today as are schools and everything else in Los Alamos County. The communities of Los Alamos and White Rock started voluntary evacuations. Several smaller communities closer to the fire totaling 400 households or so were under mandatory evacuation.

The fire is within a mile of LANL boundaries, this morning – and everyone from Homeland Security to surrounding county fire departments are added to the fire crews. We all remember the fire that destroyed hundreds of home in Los Alamos several years back and hope to stop that being repeated.

Yes – it’s west of us. That ain’t good. Prevailing summer winds vary from south to west. Air quality this morning is abysmal. The smell of smoke woke me during the night. It’s settling into La Cieneguilla Valley pretty thick. I’ll have a better idea after sunrise.

We’re probably safe; but, safe doesn’t mean a whole boatload with wildfires until they’re contained. Even then, with Rocky Mountain winds – any fire can jump containment.

UPDATE: Folks who haven’t lived in the Southwest aren’t used to the numbers describing size out here. We have wildfires bigger than cities in other parts of the country. In the last 6 hours the fire has grown from 6000 to 44000 acres. Two or three dozen woodlands homes are gone. Families got out with the clothes on their back and not much else.

Backfires and burn outs appear to have blocked the fire from the two main population centers, White Rock and Los Alamos. Winds have changed again and are headed into unburned timber towards Jemez Springs. For the moment.

UPDATE 2: Los Alamos is now under a mandatory evacuation. Shifting winds, strong winds – no one’s safety can be guaranteed.

The evacuation order does not include White Rock – though residents are urged NOT to go to White Rock in case that community is added to the evacuation. Los Alamos residents are divided into three groups to aid in an orderly evacuation and the reverse 911 system is in effect making robocalls to residents to let them know when it’s time for their section of the town to evacuate. [2PM MDT, 27 June 2011]

UPDATE 3: Los Alamos is now mostly empty of residents. Streets are patrolled by local cops, state police and the national guard to prevent looting. The fire is now up to 60000 acres.

UPDATE 4: Thursday 30 June, the fire is up over 92,000 acres. The town of Los Alamos looks secure; but, the spread up Santa Clara Canyon has rocketed past anything expected and the Santa Clara Pueblo and the Puye Cliff Dwellings look to be threatened.

UPDATE 5: Monday 4 July – folks are allowed to return home to Los Alamos. The fire is still burning at the northern and southern ends. Now up over 121,000 acres.