Cerro Pelado Fire Monday (May 9) Update: Spot fires burning, but not cause for alarm or evacuation; calmer weather conditions tonight and tomorrow

LANL, Los Alamos County, the NNSA’s Los Alamos Field Office and the DOE Office of Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office update community on status of fire currently burning in Jemez Mountains

May 10, 2022

A news release from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos County, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos Field Office and the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office

Red flag conditions (high wind, low humidity) over the past two days have caused the Cerro Pelado fire in the Jemez Mountains to grow, but fire officials say the fire continues to burn slowly and low to the ground over the Las Conchas burn scar, and there is no cause for alarm.

Over 860 personnel are working the fire, which is now 40,958 acres. On Monday, fire operations continued to prep fire lines on roads east of FR 289. Super scooper planes and heavy helicopters dropped water on the eastern perimeter until high winds prevented further flights.

Calmer weather conditions are expected Monday night into Tuesday morning, which will help crews fight the fire with airborne water and fire-retardant drops.

Small spot fires resulting from wind-borne embers are burning slowly in a few locations, including in Alamo Canyon, about 3.5 miles from the Laboratory and 7 miles from the Los Alamos townsite, and on Frijoles Ridge (but not in Frijoles Canyon). Fire officials said that these spot fires are small and present no cause for alarm and no call for evacuation right now.

The incident command team, Los Alamos County, the Laboratory and other responding agencies are working closely to take all factors into account when making decisions about whether to put the community on alert. They are considering both where, geographically, the fire is burning and the conditions of the fire as guidelines. Although a fire breach of Alamo Canyon into Frijoles Canyon is one such management action point, fire officials have determined that the spot fire in Alamo Canyon does not present a significant concern at this time.

The current N.M. 4 closure at the intersection of West Jemez Road has been extended to mile marker 61 on N.M. 4 to allow for the safety of personnel conducting wildfire mitigation activities. Residents could see more fire-response personnel in the County, but this is not a cause for alarm. These are proactive measures for planning and to keep an eye out for spot fires.

County and Lab move to ‘set’ phase

As a precautionary measure only, the Laboratory and the County on Sunday announced the move to the “set” phase of “ready, set, go,” which began for the townsite and White Rock May 9. “Set” means that conditions could change rapidly, and it is time to create a plan and prepare in case of an evacuation order. For frequently asked questions related to preparation, click here. The County has also posted FAQs on its webpage.  

It is also important to remember that these measures are precautionary and designed to give residents plenty of time to evacuate. The “Go” stage will be situational, but it aims to give everyone a 24-hour window to evacuate if needed.

As a part of the move to “set,” the Laboratory announced that it began maximum telework for all non-mission essential employees. Mission essential employees on-site are safe, and the Laboratory will not hesitate to take further proactive measures to ensure employees’ safety. Reducing the number of people physically on-site by moving all non-mission essential personnel to Maximum Telework will ensure the Laboratory is better prepared if conditions change and there is a need to further reduce on-site presence. 

In case of evacuation, Laboratory facilities will be put through a standardized “safe shutdown” process to ensure safety and security of each building, according to its processes and materials on hand. Furthermore, Lab facilities are designed and operated to protect the materials that are inside, and radiological and other potentially hazardous materials are stored in containers that are engineered and tested to withstand extreme environments, including heat from fire. 

Los Alamos County has also moved to maximum telework and has closed non-essential facilities, such as the libraries and recreational facilities. The Eco Station and Overlook Collection Center are still open during regular business hours; trash and yard trimmings are being collected as regularly scheduled; and excess brush is being accepted at the Eco Station and Overlook Collection Center. The Atomic City Transit will resume regular operating service tomorrow, May 10, with the exception of Express Routes and Peak Services.

Los Alamos Public Schools also announced that there will be no students on any campus this week.

“Set” means Los Alamos-area residents should create an evacuation plan, a “go bag,” and a communication plan that includes area evacuation and contact information, and be sure to pay close attention to news and information about the fire.

IF the County moves to the "go" phase, officials anticipate that it would require only residents from the townsite to evacuate. At this point, the White Rock area does not appear that it would be in the path of the fire and would remain in the “set” phase; however, White Rock residents should still be prepared in the event that circumstances change.

Residents can learn about evacuation status via the Laboratory’s web page, the Los Alamos County Cerro Pelado Fire Updates page and the community’s CodeRED alert system. Sign up for Los Alamos County’s CodeRED emergency alerts by texting LOSALAMOS to 99411. Also, a step-by-step guide to signing up for CodeRed can be watched on Youtube, here. More information about packing a “go bag” and other information about evacuations is available on this Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Shelter information is available here. (Note: there is no evacuation order at this time from either the County or the Laboratory.

Community meeting and additional resources

The Great Basin Team 1 and community representatives provided a Cerro Pelado fire update May 9. This evening’s community briefing will be posted on Cerro Pelado Fire Updates - Los Alamos County (losalamosnm.us).

It important for residents to get their information from official sources only. Lately, there has been an increase of misinformation on social media, causing confusion related to evacuation orders. The only information that can be trusted will come from the official sources listed below.

Los Alamos County is receiving a high volume of calls from the public with a variety of questions and requests for assistance. Forms are available on the County’s webpage, where individuals can pose questions and request assistance with transportation or animals in case of evacuation. The County highly recommends the public utilize these forms in order to help staff manage the high volume of requests.

Also, Los Alamos County officials request that individuals with questions not contact emergency responders directly, as they are extremely busy fighting the fire. A form is available on the County’s webpage where questions can be submitted.

The Laboratory, Los Alamos County, the NNSA Field Office and the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office continue to monitor the fire as a unified response and will provide daily updates as long as they are necessary. Emergency operations managers from Los Alamos and Sandoval counties are drawing on the technical expertise of the Laboratory and NNSA, as well as that of the Los Alamos County Fire Department.

Be sure to rely on official sources for the latest information on the Cerro Pelado fire, such as:

Air quality updates can be found on the Laboratory’s air quality monitoring website here and on AirNow